Mile 108 PAC volunteer Teresa Ritchie helps parent Jennifer Linn with a Mother’s Day plant order, one of the fundraisers the school has been able to safely take part in this year. (Melissa Smalley - 100 Mile Free Press)

Mile 108 PAC volunteer Teresa Ritchie helps parent Jennifer Linn with a Mother’s Day plant order, one of the fundraisers the school has been able to safely take part in this year. (Melissa Smalley - 100 Mile Free Press)

Parent groups adjust to COVID school year

Fundraising, activities at local schools scaled back due to pandemic restrictions

Parent Advisory Councils around the South Cariboo are scaling back fundraising this year because of the impact of COVID-19 rules and regulations.

But they’re still finding innovative ways – such as partnering with the business community – to support students during these challenging times.

“We have recognized that this past COVID year has been tough on a lot of families, with job loss and the rising cost of everything which is also a factor,” Nicki Jackson, chair of the Mile 108 PAC, said. “We didn’t want to over fundraise this year.”

In a normal year, the Mile 108 PAC offers a hot lunch program several days a week, hosts popular movie nights and organizes a Christmas bazaar. This year, the PAC’s fundraising activities – including a variety of orders like chocolates, coffee and customized Christmas cards – were all held online, with a focus on partnering with local businesses.

“We really wanted to work out ways to fundraise with local businesses. They’ve been so supportive of us, so we wanted to help boost them as well,” Jackson said, noting that they still are able to offer a monthly pizza lunch.

The Lac La Hache Elementary PAC has also taken the opportunity to think outside the box this year with ways to support the students and their families, said PAC chair Heather De Ruiter.

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At Halloween, the PAC approached local dental offices, which generously donated new toothbrushes for the students because “who knows when some of these kids last went to the dentist because of COVID,” de Ruiter said. For Valentines Day, instead of exchanging cards, the PAC donated craft supplies so the students could make thank you posters for the local businesses and essential service workers.

De Ruiter said the PAC is now looking at what it can do to replace the year-end party they usually host for students and families.

“We may send them home with books and goodie bags instead of the end-of-year party,” she said. “We are really just focused on making sure the kids are happy and safe and have fun stuff to do.”

It’s a similar situation at 100 Mile Elementary, where the PAC is focusing its efforts within the school. Instead of putting money towards field trips and assemblies, the PAC will purchase a “buddy bench” – a place where kids who need someone to play with can sit – and are helping to get the ball rolling on an outdoor learning space, said PAC treasurer Ashley Keeping.

“We can’t have many volunteers in the school this year, so that makes things a bit more difficult,” Keeping said.

Though the PAC is disappointed to be missing its annual carnival event later this month, Keeping said they may try to set up a smaller-scale, COVID-safe event.

At Horse Lake Elementary, PAC chair Kathy Grieve said they are working hard to make the best of a tricky year after being forced to cancel many of their annual events and fundraisers.

The PAC has been able to offer hot dog days every second week, with strict safety protocols in place, Grieve noted. They have also shifted a few of their programs online as well, including hosting a virtual book fair, although this was understandably not as successful as the in-person version, she said.

“Online can be difficult. Some of our families, we don’t know what kind of internet they may have,” she said.

“Our PAC is very supportive and we’re working within the rules, making the best of the situation and adapting the best we can.”

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One of the biggest challenges facing the Peter Skene Ogden PAC has been a drop in the number of people attending meetings. PAC chair Elke Baechmann said she noticed the downturn when meetings were moved online.

“It’s totally understandable,” she said. “A lot of people do Zoom meetings all day, and it’s harder to connect and discuss things with online meetings.”

Baechmann encourages PSO parents to tune in and listen to the meetings – there are two left this year – as vital information is often discussed between the executive and the principal.

Despite the challenges, the local PAC representatives agree the year has gone fairly well. “We want to give the teachers and principal all the credit for having to adapt and change,” Grieve said.

Jackson agreed, adding that nobody at school – staff and parents alike – knew what to expect when the school year started in September.

“In the beginning, we definitely heard a lot of trepidation about how things were going to work,” Jackson said. “To me, the school has done an amazing job. And this year we wanted to not only give back to the community as much as we could, but to make sure that the teachers and all the staff know how much we appreciate them. It hasn’t been easy.”


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