What to expect as Nunavut schools reopen
“It was not always easy to stay home, and now it will take extra work to go back to school”
School in Nunavut ended in March, and the weather from March to August has been excellent in many communities. Parents had extra time away from work, travel to the south was limited and more families stayed north for the summer.
In Nunavut, we do not live in cities and for some fortunate children, there has been camping and fishing and hunting and lessons in land skills. This year we saw many more boats and snow machines headed out on the land and there have been children at cabins and helping to pitch tents. Small ears have been hearing stories and receiving instructions in Inuktitut, children of all sizes have been out playing hockey on distant frozen lakes, and when the summer came, swimming in creeks. Where the resources can be accessed, our families and the land are a huge and amazing classroom, where children learn skills, language and character, respect, patience and persistence.
We know also that there were lots of video games and idle hours, some packages arriving from teachers, and some online programs. Not all our students had the chance to stay connected to school, and not all of our families put emphasis on school work. We need to get better at supporting children in very diverse learning environments.
Starting this month students will return to schools in Nunavut. This is a good time to show respect to the teachers who stayed with us through summer, and to appreciate the commitment of teachers who will spend two weeks in quarantine. We know that our children gain language skills and relationship skills to move forward in the world, and we appreciate teachers who provide safe places to learn.
We are still fortunate. We have not seen any COVID-19 cases in Nunavut. This could change at any time. Nunavut schools, more than others, need to prepare now, so that any outbreak has the minimum effect on all of us.
Nunavut does not have a public health order specially for schools. We will need to be reasonable and plan ahead. The Department of Education has set out general guidance, and every DEA will work with principals to make sure that a plan is in place for each school, confirming how each school reopens, including a physical plan for each school.
The department has committed that cleaning will be improved in all schools, and caretakers will receive training. In some cases, we need to hire caretakers or bring them into the schools early before we open up classrooms. District education authorities are hoping that there will be a clear supply line for all the essentials, including masks and lots of hand sanitizer ready in the schools for regular use.
Students need to know that there are new rules. Each school will be a bit different, but DEAs may approve a plan to begin with older children or small groups. Each group of students needs a clear chance to see and learn how to behave in classrooms, follow the rules coming and going from school, and understand how to keep their own areas clean. It will be important for parents to encourage children to wash their hands every time they return to the house, and to understand your school plan.
Some schools were already very crowded before COVID-19. We will need to be creative and provide additional spaces, and possibly even new locations, so that we do not push our students too close together. Other schools do have space to keep safe distances. Everywhere in Nunavut there can be lots of outdoor learning. Classes can alternate indoors and outdoors. Children with special medical issues may need to learn in still other ways, and parents can write or email ahead to tell the school and DEA if special approaches are needed.
Plans may allow smaller groups of children and teachers to stay together all day and not mix with others. Around the world, schools have limited groups to 15-25 people, including teachers, staff and students, who stay together as a group.
We plan that children will have a chance to talk together in school and to better understand, without fear, some of the important facts about the COVID virus. Children also feel psychological stress and the department has committed to provide resources to support student mental health.
It was not always easy to stay home, and now it will take extra work to go back to school. If there is COVID in our regions or communities, the rules for school may change quickly and more than once. Parents will hear about changes directly from schools and the DEA in each community.
We need to be patient and creative for our children—continuing to put healthy learning first. We can make it through the school year with extra support for our schools and teachers, and extra attention for our children and the many ways they learn.
Jedidah Merkosak is chair of the Coalition of Nunavut DEAs