Iqaluit teachers drop off food with homework packages
With students learning remotely, it’s harder to detect which students are going hungry, Joamie elementary school principal says
With Iqaluit schools closed during the COVID-19 outbreak, teachers are doing their best to keep kids learning from home, despite challenges with internet connectivity, varied home lives among students and a lack of food for some.
Scott MacDonald, the principal of Joamie elementary school, said while delivering course work, teachers have also been dropping off food, including fresh produce, meat, dairy products and pantry goods for students’ families.
Before COVID-19 arrived in Iqaluit in April, the school served breakfast, snacks and take-home food bags to students from their in-house food bank.
“We’re doing our best to keep that going,” he said.
When students were in school, it was easier to just hand kids a bag of food as they walked out the door, MacDonald said. He said the home deliveries are “a little extra effort we certainly don’t mind doing.”
In a news conference last week, Nunavut’s chief public health officer Dr. Michael Patterson said he would support schools keeping their food programs open to keep students fed.
But MacDonald said knowing who needs food is a bit harder without kids in the building.
“When you [could] tell a kid is feeling a bit off … one of the first questions we [would] always ask is, ‘Are you hungry?’” he said. “That’s when you get ‘I didn’t eat lunch today … there’s no food at home.’”
Some families reach out to the school to ask for food when they need it, and other times, teachers will send some just in case, MacDonald said.
Sometimes, a family will thank them but say they don’t need the help, and some have been donating to the school’s food bank to help meet the need.
“You never want to assume that a family needs food, but it’s a little easier when you have that contact daily with the kids and families.”
The food bank at Joamie is stocked by local vendors, sealift orders and Amazon for dried goods, MacDonald said.
He said the first lockdown in 2020 helped staff prepare for another round of at-home learning.
At Joamie school, there are about 40 kids in each grade, MacDonald said, meaning each teacher — with the help of support staff — is responsible for about 20 students with grades split into two classes.
“It’s been going pretty well, all things considered,” he said, adding that teachers have been communicating with students and parents by email or phone, and dropping off printed work packages to students with limited internet.
With some households having two working parents, some with single parents and other factors like a lack of mobile devices or internet connectivity, he said the teachers are doing their best to meet kids and parents where they’re at — while many of the teachers have their own children doing school from home.
“Some students have returned very little [homework], and others have returned everything … there’s certainly some gaps there from student to student … a lot of that depends on the family situation,” he said.
MacDonald said staff is being mindful of students’ different home situations and monitoring their progress to help them get back on track once they’re back in school, if needed.
The school’s gym teacher has been uploading exercise videos to YouTube to help the kids stay active at schools, and language instructors, like the Inuktitut and French teachers, are also finding ways to keep students engaged with work packages.
The social aspect of school, on-the-land trips for skiing and fishing, and other group activities are big pieces both students and staff are missing out on, MacDonald said.
“Intramural sports, choir, drama, sewing … all those things where you build those extra relationships outside of the classroom … they’re beneficial as much for the teacher as they are for the students.”” said MacDonald.