Evacuees' education on hold as Manitoba kids prepare for back to school

While children and teens in Manitoba prepare to head back to school this week, evacuees fleeing fire near their communities say everything is on hold, including their kids' education.

Educators doing their best to do student evaluations this week

Stuart McDougall said his administrators are trying to do what they can this week to help evacuees prepare to go back to school when they're allowed to return home. (CBC)

While children and teens in Manitoba prepare to head back to school this week, evacuees fleeing fire near their communities say everything is on hold, including their kids' education.

About 4,300 people have been displaced from Garden Hill, Wasagamack and St. Theresa Point First Nations due to a wildfire burning near their communities. Despite their people being spread out in hotels and at shelters in Winnipeg and Brandon, administrators say they're going to do their best to do needed student evaluations this week.

"When you are in a state of emergency, everything is put on hold, it's a day-to-day thing," said Stuart McDougall, director of education for St. Theresa Point. "I always remain faithful with my staff that we always come up with plans in order to be able to cover what we missed.

"It was also supposed to be assessment week this week to figure out our places with students, that still the plan," he added.

While another 740 people were supposed to come to Winnipeg from Garden Hill this week, those evacuations have been called off and there are no more evacuation requests at this time, according to the Red Cross. 

McDougall said no matter when the students go back to school, administrators and staff will adjust their plans for the school year. 

"Getting back to school mode is going to be a time thing," he said. "When time comes to go back to school, I am pretty sure our teachers will be there, our staff, to accommodate our students."

McDougall couldn't say how many students are directly affected, and said some students have been evacuated and some are still in their communities. 

"It's not only [students] that are affected by the evacuation … but also our staff. We have about 95 per cent of our staff are from our community and a lot of our staff members are evacuated as well, so that affects our formal education in the community. 

Children are dealing with trauma, culture shock, says executive director

Robert Flett said many of St. Theresa's Point First Nations children are experiencing culture shock while living in Winnipeg. (CBC)

Kids who have been displaced from their communities are dealing with the shock of suddenly leaving their communities, said Robert Flett, executive director of St. Theresa Point First Nation. 

"At this point school, might be the last thing on their mind because it is a traumatic event for them, they've been displaced from their community," said Flett.

"If you ask a child 'Are you looking forward to school?' they'll answer 'I want to go home, I want to go home first, know that whoever is left behind in my community is safe.'"

  Flett said the kids are used to running outside, not being cooped up. 

"When they're home, they're free to run around. You don't have to sort of worry 'Who is this person talking to me?' so there is the culture shock to them.

"Pavement, where's my green trees, the grass, how come I can't just go outside? People are telling me you have to watch who I talk to, watch those people that are going to grab you, all these things, it's a big shock. It's hard to say what that child is going through right now."

Other things the kids are dealing with include the language barrier and food that they're not used to, Flett added.

"There is some who are displaced who don't understand the language," said Flett. "So we're here to assist them."

McDougall said he is optimistic things will return to normal once the evacuees return. "Kids are resilient."

With files from Pierre Verriere