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No student left behind with online home learning

Students and staff adjust to virutual learning as school boards deal with budget cuts and challenges

LAC LA BICHE - Not every student attending Lakeland Catholic Schools across the Lakeland is plugged into the digital world, so school officials have provided hundreds of laptops to families in need, allowing all students to have access to online learning during the COVID-19 school closures.

Joint programming between the region's Catholic school system, Francophone learning and Northern Lights Public Schools rolled out an online lesson plan for all students on March 25. But as the planning was taking place, school officials realized that not every family had computer access while at home.

Across the Lakeland Catholic School District, 380 laptops and chromebooks have been distributed to all students who did not previously have a computer to access their classes, homework, and assignments on. 

At the Light of Christ Catholic School in Lac La Biche, 30 laptops and chromebooks were given out to ensure no student would fall behind on their studies. The devices are on a loan system, so when schools are up and running again the laptops and chromebooks will be given back. 

“We knew from the start that many of our families did not have devices at home, so we knew we would have to figure out a way for every student to be able to have access to their education,” Light of Christ Principal Carmen Semeniuk told the POST, adding that the computers not only continue to link students to learning, but the program has also helped to reduce stress levels on families already coping with extraordinary circumstances due to the pandemic.

“We appreciate all the time, energy, and dedication that families are putting into online learning,” says Semeniuk. “It’s definitely an adjustment for everyone involved. We also want to stress that during these uncertain times, we want to ensure that students' mental health and families physical health is a priority.”

Virtual Victories

The online learning classes are being partnered with individual online visits between teachers and students, as well as some virtual group 'hang-outs' created by teachers and support staff. These kinds of connections are vital as the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic continue, says Nicole Garner, the spokesperson for NLPS.

"Even though we are physically further apart at this time, our connections to each other are more important than ever," she said in a recent statement, adding that staff members are adapting the unique situation that the pandemic has created. "Many of them are learning new skills and moving outside their own comfort zones to connect with students and families. The feedback we are receiving from students, parents and the community has been overwhelmingly positive and has also helped our staff continue to feel connected to our students and their families."

Garner said that some teachers who are now working from home, or contacting students through computer links at arranged times outside of normal working hours are also coping with their own circumstances in relation to the pandemic. School offiicals appreciate that this may create some unique interractions between students and teachers.

"This might mean that you hear some dogs barking or children playing in the background when your child’s teacher calls to check in," Garner said.

One of the challenges recently facing many school division staff across Lakeland was job losses due to the provincial government's recent announcement to chop funding to school boards during the forced school closures. Across the Lakeland, that funding loss would have meant the loss of hundreds of what were termed as "non-essential" support staff.

NLPS avoids 'mass layoffs'

Last Saturday, provincial officials told school boards across the province that 14 per cent of their instruction budgets would be cut in May and June and transportation funding would be reduced by 51 per cent. Those funds had already been accounted for in this year's budgeting process at school divisions.

On Thursday, Northern Lights Public School trustees say they have created a plan to minimize the job losses by working with all departments to find other efficiencies. Division adminisrators have also made voluntary layoff packages available for any staff members who wish to take them.

"By avoiding mass layoffs, we are also able to minimize the effect on our local economy, which has already been severely impacted by the economic downturn, and provide stability to members of our Northern Lights family," said NLPS board chairperson Arlene Hyrnyk and division superintendent Rick Cusson in a shared statement released on Friday. "We were able to offset a large portion of the reduction in funding by identifying areas in our budget where expenses could be reduced as a result of not having students in our schools. We would like to thank our division office and school administration for their work in re-examining their budgets."

Budget news from Lakeland Catholic and the francophone shcool board will be updated as information becomes available.

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