How 2 N.W.T. college students feel about going back to school amid pandemic

Students at Aurora College say the transition to online classes during the pandemic will be a challenge — but one they hope to rise to.

Aurora College is transitioning to online classes

Amber Powder holds her daughter outside of the Fort Smith campus of Aurora College. She has to balance her education with her daughter's this year, who is being homeschooled during the pandemic. (Submitted by Amber Powder )

Amber Powder wanted to move to Alberta to take her bachelors of environmental studies next year — but she'll have to take an extra semester at Aurora College because of the pandemic. 

She's entering her second year of the college's environmental and natural resources technology diploma in Fort Smith, N.W.T., a program where close to half of the curriculum is mandatory field work. The college is postponing field work due to the pandemic, which Powder said sets her plan back by a year. 

"It felt pretty crappy in the beginning, like knowing that your plan is just completely messed up," Powder told CBC. 

Powder is one of many students at the N.W.T.'s Aurora College getting ready to transition to mostly online classes this fall, which some say will be a challenge.

Aurora College in Fort Smith, N.W.T., pictured in September 2019. The college is offering most of their programs entirely online this year because of the pandemic. A select few will be able to have short face-to-face interactions with their teachers. (Mario Di Ciccio/Radio-Canada)

The college says some programs, like nursing, carpentry and plumbing, will have some face-to-face instruction. Powder's program will have some mixed delivery as well, but she says she doesn't know what that looks like right now. 

The pandemic is also affecting the way Powder's six-year-old daughter will be attending school. Their family made the decision to home school her, meaning that Powder will have to balance both of their education at home while her partner goes to work. 

I don't get much of that space at home to work on things.- Amber Powder, second year environment technology student 

"I don't get much of that space at home to be able to work on things," Powder said. "It's definitely going to be a challenge to balance them both." 

In-person tutoring sessions would help Powder keep up with the course material. Her tutor from last school year offered to do online sessions, but Powder said that might still be difficult with her family's schedule. 

'It's more relaxing than being in class' 

Megan Bertrand was finishing up a certificate program at Aurora College when the pandemic hit. She didn't have a laptop, any internet access in her student unit or a scanner to submit assignments. She had to dip into her disposable income to buy all the tools she needed for online classwork. 

It will be difficult, but I see [online classes] as something that is gonna encourage my curiosity and drive my passion toward my education.- Megan Bertrand, first year office administration student 

The transition was smooth after that. 

"I can pause the video, grab a cup of coffee and come back to my desk," Bertrand said. "It's more relaxing than being in a class in a way." 

Bertrand, having completed the certificate program, is now getting ready to start her first year of office administration in Fort Smith. Her program will be delivered completely online. 

Megan Bertrand, left, takes a selfie with some classmates on Bell Lets Talk day. Bertrand was finishing up a certificate program at Aurora College when the pandemic hit. (Submitted by Megan Bertrand )

Bertrand said it will be hard not seeing her teachers and peers in-person this semester. She describes herself as a visual learner, who does her best work when she's able to get immediate clarification from her instructors after class. 

But she's ready to rise to the challenge. 

"If I came this far in my education and I still have this drive ... it will be difficult, but I see [online classes] as something that is gonna encourage my curiosity and drive my passion toward my education," Bertrand said.