The Honourable R.J. Simpson, Minister of Education, Culture and Employment (ECE) met with territorial education leaders and the Northwest Territories Teachers’ Association (NWTTA) again on April 21, 2020 to discuss continued learning for Northwest Territories (NWT) students during the time of school closures as a result of COVID-19.
Leaders from all regions of the NWT joined the Minister and other ECE officials on the biweekly teleconference to discuss progress to date and share innovative work underway across regions to support teachers, parents and students with learning at home.
All schools across the NWT have begun supplying their students with at-home learning packages, either through pick-up, delivery, mail-outs or email, as a way to accommodate and support students with and without home computers and Internet access. These packages provide enough school work for one to two weeks of learning, and students can either email or drop off completed packages at schools while following protocols for physical distancing.
Where possible, schools have supplied students with laptops or tablets, and have moved their classrooms online onto platforms such as Moodle or Google Classroom. Teachers have set up virtual learning support centres, including Facebook groups and sections of their websites, to share video tutorials and other resources designed to support students and families using these new applications.
Recognizing that this is a challenging time for all families, students and teachers, many education bodies have dedicated first weeks of distance learning to supporting student and family wellness. For example, East Three Secondary and Elementary Schools in Inuvik are offering phone counselling for their students and have set up a ‘Health and Wellness’ Facebook group, while K'àlemì Dene School in Ndilǫ focused their first week of teaching on how to set up a daily routine, doing outdoor scavenger hunts and writing personal wellness plans.
Healthy foods programming continues to be made available to students outside of schools. In each region, a range of food hampers, gift cards, grocery store accounts and cooked meals are being provided to households in need, either directly or via the local Indigenous government’s food security initiatives.
With the support of ECE, teachers are continuing to follow curriculum while tailoring approaches to accommodate the new distance learning situation. These system-wide supports include new assessment tools for distance and land-based learning, with the understanding that many families are spending time on the land as a way to stay safe during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as temporary processes for high school course completion, links to online learning resources, helpful information on safe use of technology, and resources for parents.
To stay connected as a school community, teachers have been sharing video messages to their students over social media, holding teacher parades to greet their students from a safe distance, sharing student artwork and photos online, and hosting online school spirit days.
Schools and communities have also banded together to provide additional activities and encourage students to stay engaged from their homes through things like creative writing, reading and on-the-land photo contests. Through social media, students and families have been connected with a number of free online resources, including large selections of online books and stories, as well as educational games and activities, and mental wellness supports.
There continue to be challenges that will likely persist for the remainder of the school year. The lack of home computers and Internet access, as well as the struggles that come from shifting to an at-home learning environment, are obstacles that teachers and staff, with the support of ECE, will continue to find ways to work around. Educators will continue to show flexibility and creativity in adapting their approach to providing learning and wellness supports to students during this time.
The next meeting of education leaders with Minister Simpson is scheduled for Tuesday, May 5, 2020.
“When education leaders in the Northwest Territories decided collectively to close schools for the remainder of the school year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we recognized the significant impact this decision would have on students, families, staff and communities, and were committed to finding options to support continued learning for all NWT students. I am deeply moved and inspired by the dedication of our hard-working educators, who have shown flexibility and creativity in adapting distance learning and wellness supports for our students to meet their wide-ranging household needs. By continuing to exchange solutions and innovations, NWT education leaders are supporting one another in providing quality at-home learning for all students during this unprecedented time.”
-R.J. Simpson, Minister of Education, Culture and Employment
“The announcement made by education bodies to close schools until the end of the school year in response to COVID-19 is unprecedented. Many questions arose about how the various education bodies and their staff would be able to accomplish the enormous task of developing plans for continuity of learning. With Minister Simpson’s guidance, ECE, education bodies and the NWTTA created the NWT Education Bulletin, which laid out the framework and expectations around continued learning. Education bodies, school principals, teachers and support staff have embraced the challenge and connected with students and families, quickly participating in professional development activities to get acquainted with different technology and platforms, and providing students with the first set of learning plans. Although we will continue to have challenges, I’d like to congratulate all of the principals, teachers and support staff for rallying together to produce these plans that not only focus on student achievement, but are also developing resiliency in each one of us. This collective effort is a testament to our NWT education system that truly has the well-being of its students, families and staff at heart.”
-Simon Cloutier, Chair of Commission scolaire francophone des Territoires du Nord-Ouest, on behalf of NWT Education Leaders
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Government of the Northwest Territories