Saskatoon

Remote learning for Sask. students starts this week. Here's what we know about that framework

Dustin Reekie, a registered psychologist who works with children and teens, said there will be many students eager to pick up where they left off.

On Monday, the province's 27 school divisions will start to deliver education remotely in the province

Erin O'Connor and her son Tommy, who is in Grade 1 at École Canadienne-Française, says she's a little worried about the upcoming transition to remote learning, but says it's also an exciting time for many. (Supplied/Erin O'Connor)

It's an unprecedented time in Saskatchewan schools.

On Monday, teachers and students across the province will try to wrap up the school year from their kitchen tables, home offices and bedrooms, with knowledge flowing through a cable, as opposed to within the classroom.

That's because the Government of Saskatchewan is now working under its remote learning framework that will allow teachers at the province's 27 school divisions to continue teaching their students without ever setting foot in a classroom.

For some parents, like Erin O'Connor, whose son is in Grade 1 at École canadienne-française in Saskatoon, she says the transition is looming.

"It's going to be a learning curve for all us," she said. "Teachers haven't done this before. And the parents haven't done this before. And a lot of us are trying to juggle working from home and conference calls from our boss at the same time." 

'Exciting, and different and difficult'

O'Connor said she expects some hiccups in the first few weeks of the rollout, but for the most part, she's pleased the government is trying to have students finish up their studies. As a parent, she said there have been a few weeks of confusion, as they pulled their child out before the schools were shuttered. 

"We've had a couple of weeks now of very unstructured time," she said, but noted her son's teacher has been doing her best to keep in touch, showing them their new classroom, which has been established in the teacher's attic. 

"It's going to be exciting, and different and difficult for everyone," she said. 

On Friday, Assistant Deputy Minister Clint Repski said the framework will allow divisions to deliver instruction through multiple measures, which includes "everything from paper to phone calls to the online environment," but said it'll be students and staff who are in the best position to determine those pieces. 

Several methods of delivery

One school division that has already sent a detailed plan to its parents is the Prairie South School Division.

In the document, the school details what a day may look like for various grades. For example, in a sample learning schedule for pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students, the day starts with a 15 minute "morning opening" where students will review the day's schedule, talk about the weather and encourage sharing. 

Following that, there's 45 minutes of story time, then 30 minutes of a child-directed activity, alongside outlines for breaks and other activities.

Similar plans with more advanced classwork, like math practice, writing time and creative time, are also outlined for grades 1 to 3, 4 to 6 and 7 to 9. 

Remote learning opportunities in the province are being offered on a voluntary basis, as the Government of Saskatchewan previously announced any students who were failing when school was cancelled would be passed, with their grade as of March 13 standing for the year. 

Some students stressing about missed classroom time 

Dustin Reekie, a registered psychologist who works with children and teens, said there will be many students eager to pick up where they left off. 

"Kids do want very much to feel that they're learning, that they're gaining new knowledge," he said, noting that's what he's been hearing in his practice. 

"I'm surprised how often they themselves have brought up that they are stressed about the work they're missing, even in elementary school," he said. "They are stating: 'I get I'm going to pass but I'm going into a new year and I know I'm missing a lot of stuff.'" 

Reekie said he expects the online learning to help decrease some of the anxiety students are feeling as it will give them some purpose to their day. He said however, it's important for parents to realize the way school is set up today differs widely then when they may have attended classes.

"There are frequent body breaks being given in class to help utilize energy, to help get the heart pumping and get the brain oxygenated," he said. 

He said parents and students can work together to ensure stress and anxiety levels in the home classroom stay low, noting parents should be prepared to do some deep breathing and some distraction exercises with their child if they feel their child is struggling.

"That is one of the great things about at-home learning is the parent will be helping with this," he said. "The greatest expert on the child is the parent, and the parent, in my hopes, [will] allow the child to find their way into areas of greatest interest and to promote learning through inquiry."

Cora Weenk, and her daughter Tess Yausie, say while they've enjoyed the time together as schools in Saskatchewan have closed to prevent the spread of COVID-19, they're eager to have 16-year-old Tess continue her studies as she prepares for Grade 12 next year. (Supplied/Cora Weenk)

Some students eager to start 

Sixteen-year-old Tess Yausie, a Grade 11 student at Aden Bowman Collegiate, says she's ready to hit the books, albeit from home. 

Enrolled in Bowman's International Baccalaureate Program, she said while sleeping in and spending time with her family has been nice, she's ready for a change. 

"I'm quite eager to get back and to get learning again," she said. 

Yausie said while some students are happy to "get the credit and go," she wants to make sure she gets as much done as possible before moving on to Grade 12 and her final year in the system.

"I'm just ready to get going, because I just don't want to waste too much time," she said. 

"I want to keep on track so then I can have a good Grade 12 year, and there's not all the content that I missed is pushed into that, making it more stressful. Because with college applications and stuff, there is a lot ahead." 

Cora Weenk, Yausie's mom, said she too is excited to see her daughter return to her studies, saying the continued backing from staff has been helpful.  

"The teachers have been really supportive and are communicating with her as much as possible," she said. "Obviously not this week, but prior to the events happening, and that really does make a huge difference."

Mental health also important 

Erin Hidlebaugh and her two sons, Liam Atkinson in Grade 8 and Lennon Atkinson in Grade 4 at the Prairie South School Division, said parents need to pay close attention to their children's mental health as well as their academic pursuits as the province transitions to a remote learning format. (Supplied/Erin Hidlebaugh)

Erin Hidlebaugh, like many parents, is looking forward to having her two sons return to school in the Prairie South School Division, but said parents should be focusing on their students' mental health through the transition, as well as their academics.

"I've been kind of gentle with my oldest boy, because not only is he not seeing his friends and not allowed out of the house, but he's also mourning that last year of elementary school," she said, as student milestones like camping trips and graduation, are all in flux. 

"We all need to make sure to take our children's mental health into consideration as well," she said.

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