The Kahnawake Education Center (KEC) has started to look at several different scenarios for the new school year in the fall, and although no decision has been made yet, there’s a ton of work going on behind the scenes.
Robin Delaronde, director of education in Kahnawake, said they are currently looking at three possible scenarios for the return of school in the fall.
She explained that the possible scenarios are returning to school, but with physical distancing measures and adapted schedules put in place, or blended learning, which involves continuing to learn online and incorporate outdoor learning as well.
The other scenario they are being faced with is the possibility of parents not wanting to send their children to school if the first scenario occurs.
In that case, learning packages and regular check-ins would happen.
“This is a big endeavour, for them as educators and for parents,” Delaronde said. “They’ve been tasked with an enormous job.”
The Kahnawake COVID-19 Task Force made the decision on April 28 that all schools would remain closed till fall, citing health and safety of the community.
Since then, teachers and parents in Kahnawake have been adjusting to online learning.
“Currently we have online learning and it’s targeted more at the grade 10 and 11 levels in terms of regular instruction,” Delaronde said. “It was not mandatory, but teachers took it upon themselves to immediately start connecting with their students in different ways.”
Delaronde said for the other grades, teachers were given the flexibility of deciding what online teaching methods worked best for their students.
While teachers at KEC have reached out to their students in creative ways, they are still facing challenges.
“This is a major learning curve for everyone,” Delaronde said. “What we did was put together a team, an online learning task team and we identified areas that we needed to address and plan for the fall.”
The online learning task team has been working on two projects. The first was preparing a comprehensive survey to distribute to parents and students, to gain insight on what the reality is for families at home in terms of access to technology, working parents and how many children are in one household.
The second is looking at providing students with resources they need.
Delaronde confirmed that laptops were purchased already and students can access them whether they need them or not.
All this information gathered by the online learning task team would then be used to ensure that any issues that arose in the last two months would be addressed for next school year.
They are also focusing on support for family and teachers, as this is a challenge for everyone.
“We’re looking at additional resources we can provide parents as well,” Delaronde said, citing that there are currently scheduled sessions and webinars available for teachers to support them.
“We have to plan for our special needs children also,” Delaronde added. “Regardless of online learning and information that we can provide, it doesn’t work with students who have these challenges.”
“Were trying to find very creative ways to address our learners from nursery to grade 3 because we cannot expect if we are in this situation again that they can be in front of a computer for three hours,” Delaronde said.
Teachers get creative
All schools and teachers in Kahnawake have approached online learning differently, but they are all doing what they can to make the best for their students.
Roxie Meloche teaches grade 1 at Karonhianónhnha School and she keeps in touch with parents through Class Dojo and has dropped off her students’ workbooks at their homes.
Meloche has also made videos singing and reading books in Kanien’kéha (Mohawk), since she teaches Mohawk.
“It’s different because we teach in Mohawk,” Meloche said. “So students need resources that cannot be found on the Internet.”
Meloche also said a lot of the teaching is oral and that students need to hear the language in order to continue their curriculum into the next grade.
“Their language needs to be constantly evolving and growing,” Meloche said. “Without the vocabulary and practice, they would struggle the next year.”
Meloche said if the parents can’t speak Mohawk, they are often unable to help their kids with their workbooks.
“Some students can read Mohawk in grade 1, but not many. It’s a hard language,” she said.
She also said that teachers at her school are doing professional development and learning how to conduct Zoom meetings and Google classroom.
With her grade 1 class, Meloche hasn’t needed to utilize these resources yet.
“At their age it would depend a lot on parents setting them up with the computer,” Meloche said. “Students are not obligated to finish their work at home.”
Meloche doesn’t know what her teaching will look like if it continues in the fall, but she does say if it happens, parental involvement will be needed for students to succeed.
“All I know is that at the younger grade levels there will have to be an adult available to help the children get online and pay attention,” Meloche said. “I’m not sure how well that will work with young children.”
“I’m wondering what the new school year will be like,” Meloche said. “As a teacher, you want to make sure the students are prepared to succeed.”
Jill Skye, a teacher at Kateri School for almost 20 years, who teaches a grade 3-4 special needs class, is also very concerned for her students and what the fall will look like.
“They need extra support every day to regulate their emotions and their behaviours to engage,” Skye said. “They are used to a very structured environment, which is more routine-like. They love the organization and expectations of it all.”
Her special needs classroom consists of children’s learning levels between kindergarten to grade 4, which makes online teaching very difficult for Skye.
“We have five different learning levels in my class,” Skye said. “We have students who have learning disabilities like autism and ADHD. Not every child is on the same level so they have different curriculums, so in order to teach them all in a Zoom classroom, I can’t really see that being easy to do.
“Not one child learns the same in general, but then add the special needs children and it adds more of a challenge,” Skye added.
Skye made the decision to retrieve her students’ workbooks and hand deliver them while respecting social distancing.
She knew if students could work in their own individualized workbooks that they were familiar with, it would be the most effective learning.
“They need a great deal of support on the other end,” Skye said. “Parents have to go to work so who’s going to be that other person that is going to be able to offer that kind of support for them? I’m worried.”
While Skye has been concerned about her students, when she was able to deliver the workbooks to her students, she made sure to provide positive reassurance.
“I assured them when I went to go see them that this was the best for them,” Skye said. “They were so happy to see me in person.”
Skye is unsure what the fall will mean for her special need classroom but reinforces that she just wants her students to succeed.
“There’s a lot of questions,” Skye said. “I care very much for my students and I want them to be happy and safe and confident and I just feel this is going to be very stressful for them.”
Katsi Little Bear, a fellow special needs teacher at Kateri agrees with Skye about the challenges.
“Many have social and emotional difficulties that make it hard to communicate with them,” Little Bear said. “It is also been challenging as there are still families without Internet, computers, or any kind of media devices to allow them access to our Zoom classes.”
Little Bear, who also has a four-year-old daughter, teaches the grade 2-3 special needs classroom. She said the school has been great and flexible with teachers, allowing them to choose their method of delivery for teaching.
“It is up to the teacher and parents,” Little Bear said. “I try to connect at least one or every two weeks. Some teachers are doing many Zoom classes per week. Each teacher is different, depending on their students.”
Some of the challenges she’s seen is when her students have siblings, which means it is difficult to set a time for Zoom meetings, since they are having to share media devices with their family.
Also, some of her students don’t have access to a computer, and she is unable to reach out to them.
Another issue she’s seen is the behaviours of her students since they are outside their usual setting.
“I have students who are having difficulty understanding what is happening right now,” Little Bear said. “Some are crying, becoming angry and some shy away and refuse to interact. So I limit to touch base to once a week, if possible. Luckily, I have dealt with these behaviours before and luckily my students have their parent close by.”
Patricia Ross, who teaches grade 5 and 6 at Karonhianónhnha School, also has a son who is in grade 5 at Kateri.
“Right now I am having Zoom meetings with my students just to touch base and talk,” Ross said. “They have access to all of the apps we’ve used in class and also the Spotlight on Learning Newsletter from the KEC.”
Ross meets with her students once a week, but is available for them whenever they need.
“Students often work in collaborative groups and are provided with immediate support,” Ross said. “I don’t see this as the best way to approach education, but I will do what I can if that’s what’s expected of me.”
Parents raise concerns
Marion Delaronde is a mother of two kids who has been trying to adjust to both her kids learning online.
She has a 13-year-old daughter who is in grade 8 at Lakeside Academy and has an 11-year-old son who is in grade 5 and attends Karonhianónhnha.
“For both it’s still in the novelty stage,” Marion said. “As a mom I noticed they feel better when they have something to do, I think it’s healthy to exercise the brain.
“I noticed my son needed a bit more help with English grammar so I took the chance to arrange small writing exercises for him,” Marion Delaronde said. “I devised other exercises in subjects like Kanien’keha, French and Art/Music.”
While she is happy to help her son, she also said it has been challenging for her since she is also working from home.
“On the surface I look and kind of feel fine, but I do show signs of being very stressed and I think it’s a normal response that many parents feel,” Marion said. “I’m so thankful that the schools are always reiterating that school work is optional.”
Since online learning, her kids have complained, but, she added, “I noticed they respond better throughout the day with some structure.”
Her son has had one Zoom meeting with his class and focuses mainly on the work Marion gives him, while her daughter has had several meetings and assignments from her classes.
“It takes some cooperation for everyone to get to use the devices and computers with Zoom because now we all have meetings now and then,” Marion said.
Kristina Kaitlyn Glen, who has a 12-year-old son in grade 6 at Kateri School, is concerned about his transition from elementary school to high school in the fall.
Her son wanted to get into the International Baccalaureate Organization (IBO) program at Howard S. Billings Regional High School in Chateauguay, but to be accepted, each potential student must take the IBO entrance exam.
However, due to the COVID-19 circumstances, Glen was told that as long as her son had obtained good grades, he would automatically be accepted.
“But is he going to be prepared to go into IBO from online schooling?” Glen said. “To get into the program you need to have an 85 percent average, which he had as of February, but now come September what are things going to be like?”
Glen is confident in her son succeeding and said he has always been self-motivated, but she is trying to tackle this situation day-by-day.
“Thinking of him going to grade 7 online, I don’t really have words to describe it,” Glen said. “Once it comes, I will deal with it and we will have to adapt into it.”
Glen had to sign her son up for high school through email by providing his report card and necessary forms. Originally, she had a meeting with the school on March 13 to register her son, but due to the circumstances it was canceled.
Her son is also in the French immersion at Kateri and said it has been hard to maintain his French in an English-speaking household.
Her son meets on Zoom three times a week and every Friday they have assignments due and said his teachers are always ready to help and accommodate.
Glen was also concerned about his graduation and what would happen.
“I’m still wondering how am I suppose to invite my grandparents to my son’s graduation, their first great grandson, when they are at risk?”
The KEC has not decided yet what the fall will look like, but it will most likely be decided by August.
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