The principal of a First Nations school southwest of Williams Lake is thankful for technology as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to disrupt traditional student learning.
“We’ve taken a real big focus on literacy and math right now,” said Sxoxomic Community School principal Stuart Krestell, noting approximately 25 electronic devices have been loaned by the school to its Grade 4 to 7 students to allow them to remain connected with instructors.
Krestell read a book every evening in a Facebook video for students before distant learning was rolled out nearly three weeks ago.
Closed to students since March 13, vigilant sanitation and physical distancing efforts continue at the rural school located at Esk’etemc First Nation (Alkali Lake) as six to eight instructors attend the school daily to prepare and plan their lessons that students receive through distant learning.
Assignment packages are delivered to all 51 students early each week by the school’s physical education teacher, Sheldon Paul and custodian, Shane Belleau. Teachers then follow up with students by calling or video messaging them before the assignments are retrieved at the end of the week for marking.
“Whenever you speak to a teacher they never thought that they would get into teaching to look into a computer screen or to talk on a telephone,” Krestell said of the challenges of distant learning.
“We’ve all chosen this profession because we enjoy interacting with the children, so there are challenges emotionally for the staff in not seeing the children, but we’ve really had to adapt and we’ve also had to break down the lessons a little more so that they transfer over the phone lines and they transfer over an internet connection; so explaining things in far different ways than you could if you are face to face with a child.”
Esk’etemc, he said, was fortunate to have Telus install fibre optics in December which has allowed many families to access high speed internet.
“I went from three megabites per second to 300 megabites per second. I could barely watch a video in my apartment before and now I can work from home which is great.”
The students are missing their close connections with friends, households and classmates but are otherwise generally in good spirits, Krestell said.
Another unique aspect of the situation will see Paul going house to house starting this week to do physical-distance exercises with students on their front yards.
“Hopefully, this is strengthening that connection and also getting them out on the land a little bit more, but they certainly miss the camaraderie of being together. We’re a small school to begin with and we’re very close with each other.”
Calling the support from Esk’etemc Band and Council “incredible,” Krestell said teaching staff and Esk’etemc chief, band and council held a parade with decorated vehicles to celebrate and connect with the school’s children and provide them with treat baskets Friday (April 24) morning at 11 a.m.
“We all hope they’ll be on their front lawns cheering us on as we cheer them on.”