Children of front-line workers have begun to fill empty classrooms and gyms within School District 8.
An initiative to provide on-site education for kindergarten to Grade 6 students whose parents are essential service health care employees began a slow rollout Monday at schools in Nelson and Creston with plans for expansion.
In the setting, children sit two metres apart at desks with their own assigned supplies. An instructor is present to assist children with work assigned digitally by their regular teachers, lunch is provided, fresh air and outdoor activities are encouraged and each day includes a nap time.
Each child is also taught about the COVID-19 pandemic and how they can help with physical distancing and proper hygiene.
“It’s not full-on daycare and it’s not full-on learning as normal,” said superintendent Christine Perkins. “It’s a bit of a hybrid done especially while we’re in this state of emergency.”
Perkins said over 60 families applied for the program, which will eventually include up to eight students each at Hume School and South Nelson Elementary in Nelson as well as Creston’s Adam Robertson Elementary and nearby Erickson Elementary. Parents with children at independent schools were also invited to apply prior to the April 3 deadline.
The sites’ locations were chosen for proximity to hospitals, and hours of operation made flexible to work with what families need. Perkins mentioned a nurse whose 12-hour work days are being supported by the district.
“It depends on the shifts of the doctors and nurses, folks who are on the front lines…,” said Perkins. “If we don’t need anything past 4:30 p.m. then we don’t offer anything past 4:30. If a family needs noon to 7 p.m., we’re there from noon to seven. We’re just trying to work with each individual family.”
Perkins said the district plans to expand the program to include other types of essential workers, such as grocery store employees and truck drivers, as well as open up sites in Kaslo, Salmo and Slocan.
She added a focus on special needs students, including those who live in poverty or who identify as LGBTQ2S, will also be addressed by staff.
“[We’re] just trying to make a home away from home while their parents are working on the front lines,” said Perkins.
Meanwhile, district teachers have begun connecting with their students stuck at home. Perkins said the education ministry has provided direction, but each school and class has its own needs that teachers are navigating.
That means, for now, a relaxed level of academic expectations on both teachers and students.
Perkins said, for example, teachers are suggesting just an hour a day of education for their youngest students. The work assigned digitally can also be done on a family’s own schedule as classrooms, for most students, move from school buildings to emails and video conferencing.
“I think right now we’re planning on running the district digitally for quite a while and trying to get around that new reality,” she said.