With Nunavut’s worst COVID-19 outbreak over, Arviat schools set to reopen
‘We’re ready for them to come back. Hopefully it will stay COVID-free,’ says school principal
Public health restrictions are set to ease Monday in Arviat, after a five-month COVID-19 outbreak, marked by 339 positive cases and one death.
Now, two weeks after the last person in the community of about 3,000 has left isolation, schools are slated to fully reopen and all students can return to classes.
That would have taken place Monday, but due to weather, all schools in Arviat have been cancelled for the day, and possibly tomorrow, due to a blizzard.
“We are excited they are coming back, but we’re a bit nervous,” Doreen Hannak, principal of Qitiqliq Middle School, which has about 200 students, told Nunatsiaq News last week.
“We’re ready for them to come back. Hopefully, it will stay COVID-free.”
Throughout the long months of public health restrictions, Hannak was the only one to visit her school.
“It was really quiet and it felt too quiet. Even the building felt cold because there was no one in the building, no activity going on, like an empty kind of a feeling,” she said.
In January, Arviat’s outbreak briefly subsided, and local leaders made a plan to reopen the schools. But more cases cropped up and that plan was abandoned.
Back home, Hannak kept to a work routine, staying in constant contact with teachers, administrators and the community — and, in her spare time, making a quilt out of baby clothes her granddaughter had outgrown.
Darleen Gibbons, who teaches Grade 7 at Qitiqliq, said it was wonderful to hear from someone outside her family when Hannak called her.
“Communication is the key,” was Hannak’s message to other Nunavut school administrators who may now find themselves isolated due to COVID-19.
For her part, Gibbons kept in touch with her students and prepared learning packages for them to complete.
Her students have missed a lot academically, but Gibbons said she has read about how students in Europe in the Second World War caught up after big gaps in their schooling, and this encouraged her.
“Inuit are resilient. They will start where they left off and continue,” Gibbons said.
John Arnalukjuak High School staff eager for students to return
At John Arnalukjuak High School, Lindsay Hines is one of 26 teachers who – along with 15 other staff – are looking forward to having their roughly 200 students back in school full-time.
During lockdown, Hines and a handful of others at the school put together learning packs for students — 50 pages or so, closed in big zip-lock bags.
They had to resort to delivering the learning packs to the students at home because they weren’t allowed to distribute them inside.
“We used a shovel and put the packages on a shovel, and if someone answered the door, we put the package on the shovel and pushed it in,” she said.
Tablets loaded with the online program Edsby arrived after the school had shut down, so there was no time to practise using it. As a result, some students were able to use the online program well, while others had trouble, she said.
Edsby can be “overwhelming” visually at first, according to Hines, and some students already had a lot going in their homes, including other family activities and even sickness.
“It was hard to keep them motivated when they are just staring at a screen, but they tried their best,” she said.
Meanwhile, Hines tried to keep a regular schedule.
“It kept us from feeling we were stranded in our little houses. Some days were harder than others, but the more work we could do, it made us feel we were fulfilling a purpose,” she said.
Hines, now in her fourth year in Arviat, hasn’t seen her family in Nova Scotia in more than a year and probably won’t make it back this summer.
Her advice for other Nunavut teachers who suddenly find themselves teaching online or in isolation: take care of yourselves, too, because you can’t work on empty.