"We’re largely back on track," said principal for Naghtaneqed Elementary Junior Secondary School, Tony Speers. The school in Nemiah Valley reopened earlier this week after a community lockdown due to COVID-19. (Gaeil Farrar photo)

Cariboo Chilcotin schools seek to recreate sense of belonging in classrooms

Students return to class after community lockdowns

Students at Naghtaneqed Elementary Junior Secondary School in Nemiah Valley began their return to in-person instruction with a warm-hearted breakfast after a nearly one-month community lockdown due to COVID-19.

The school reopened with a pancake breakfast Tuesday, Feb. 16, after having closed on Wednesday, Jan. 20.

“There were lots of smiles and lots of people saying they were happy to be back,” said principal Tony Speers.

“Hopefully, the goal was just to increase that sense of belonging and remind everybody that we missed them.”

The breakfast was organized by elementary teacher Sunny Cooper who had previously spent her mornings greeting her students online with their lessons on laptops provided by School District 27, which was sometimes challenged by wifi access and data usage.

Not all students were able to participate in online learning.

“School has many more dimensions than just the learning piece—there’s the relationship piece, there’s the sense of belonging,” Speers said.

“They’re all those pieces that go together to keep a student moving in a positive direction as they grow and develop, so if they’re interrupted, they can take a little bit of time to try to rebuild.”

Read More: UPDATED: Canim Lake Band lifts lockdown

At Eliza Archie Memorial School at Canim Lake, principal Thomas Wilkinson said families supported students returning to class.

Attendance has been improving daily at the K-12 school, which reopened on a temporarily reduced schedule earlier this month after it had closed for three weeks when a coronavirus outbreak was declared, resulting in the Canim Lake First Nation issuing a lockdown.

“If there’s a positive with regards to COVID, it’s the fact that it forced many schools like ourselves to promote the use of technology for our students,” Wilkinson said.

As staff at Eliza Archie Memorial School patiently wait to be able to reintroduce group activities such as field trips and culturally significant acts including smudging, drumming and sharing circles, Naghtaneqed Elementary Junior Secondary School is hoping students can learn more about their culture, community and family through a number of levels.

“The goal of that is to hopefully, by learning about yourself, you feel better about yourself,” Speers said.

He is also hoping the school’s 10 students will be able to partake in outdoor winter activities before the season comes to an end after receiving CommunityLINK funding to purchase snowshoes, cross-country skis and hiking footwear.

“For mental health, we’re getting outside and we’re doing what these kids like to do best,” Speers said.

“They thrive outside.”

Read More: B.C. expands mandatory mask rules in schools, rolls out ‘rapid response teams’

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