'What could go wrong?': Trial and error as family adjusts to online schooling

School is resuming — online — in Inuvik. Here's how teacher Gene Jenks and his family are making it work.

School is resuming — online — in Inuvik

Gene Jenks with his children Tessa, Cooper, Marlo and Winnie. Jenks, a teacher in Inuvik, said the return of school through online learning has taken some adjustment for everyone. (Mackenzie Scott/CBC)

Like all other families across the Northwest Territories, the Jenks, a family of six, are getting used to life in the midst of a pandemic.

Gene Jenks is a teacher at East Three Secondary School in Inuvik. Until recently, students were free from classes because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but now online schooling is getting underway.

Jenks said that while school was out they, as did most families, took everything one day at a time, and tried to keep active during the pause.

"We just had to kind of mentally accept what was going on," he said.

But now the learning has resumed. Students, and parents, now have homework.

Jenks' four kids are aged five, seven,11 and 13 — and he's the only one home during the day since his wife Anick Jenks is an essential worker at the hospital.

"The [school] packages coming was a relief for us," Jenks said. "It kind of gave us a new starting point."

Jenks said that they are still getting over some bumps as they adjust to yet another new routine in the house with all four kids doing their school work while he teaches his class.

'I almost begin to weep'

Jenks said he at first thought it would be best if they all did their work at the kitchen table. "What could go wrong?" Jenks said with a laugh.

"That was just chaos — they are with their new packages trying to get help from me for what they are doing and me with my students ... trying to go over their questions and going over the resources I sent them. And you top in french immersion … and I almost begin to weep."

He said it's all about figuring out what works for each family. He said he's grateful for his eldest, Tessa Jenks, who has been able to help him and the younger kids with french questions during the day before their mom can assist at night.

Tessa said it's been an adjustment.

"I wasn't happy. I missed school from the beginning of spring break. All I wanted to do was see my friends and see my teachers," Tessa said.

Inuvik student Tessa Jenks said she misses being at school with her friends. (Mackenzie Scott/CBC)

She said she finds it easier to focus on schoolwork at school because there are less distractions but she's starting to get used to being around her siblings all day.

"They just have lots of energy so it's hard to get them to focus on their own stuff … but I just try to find my own space, and try to block out the noise."

Tessa was active in theatre, volleyball, swimming and other social events. Life under COVID-19 means that's no longer possible.

"I'm just organizing and cleaning my room a lot. I'm learning calligraphy, and hanging out with my friends —  FaceTiming and texting a lot." 

Gene Jenks said although it can be hard, they are trying to have fun and he's also learned that "my dad voice is the same as my teacher voice."

He said that the other teachers and their lesson plans have also helped lots as they continue to get used to their new schedule for the next month and a half.

"Trial and error I think is helping us get to where we need to be," he said.

"Monday was tough but today [Wednesday] ... it's better."