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Report on Adventist Education in Ontario during Coronavirus

Thursday, April 30, 2020/Categories: Conference News

For students at any of our nine Adventist schools, a typical day since late March might look like this—
• Receiving instruction by grade or class from a teacher via Zoom
• Completing assignments posted in Google classroom under the watchful eye of mom or dad
• Mastering (or trying to master) new technologies and different educational software

It’s a far cry from pre-March Break days of learning on-site with teachers and peers, enjoying recess and other social activities. Across the globe, traditional schooling has been disrupted, with “Corona-schooling” becoming the new normal.

When Premier Doug Ford announced that following March Break, publicly funded schools would be closed in response to the novel Coronavirus, we followed suit at Ontario Conference. But what was supposed to be a two-week closure following March break has been extended to early May.

Thus, our teachers, parents and students were thrown into the deep-end of e-learning.  Teachers acted swiftly to get a plan in place. Ljiljana Markovic, Grade 5-6 Teacher, Crawford Adventist Academy East, described a whirlwind two weeks of:
• pulling together resources on hand, as well as resources sent by the province and Ontario Conference;
• setting up online learning, including day, night and weekend schedules;
• determining the best approach for each grade level;
• and doing group and peer-to-peer coaching for online learning tools.

While some teachers were already using some form of online instruction and had a smoother transition, for others, the learning curve has been very steep. Teachers noted that they are busier than ever preparing for and submitting daily and weekly assignments, then receiving and grading submitted assignments. Another task—IT support for parents and students. Robertha Greenaway, Ottawa Adventist School principal, stated, “My workdays are longer since I stay by the computer and phone all day to answer questions as they come in, to see when the work is completed and to offer solutions.”

Challenges to education in the Coronavirus era

Among the challenges of the present situation, lower grades students need more help from parents; and while older students are generally more independent, they are missing their peers.

College Park Elementary School (CPES) principal, Jason Perkins, also noted the following complications that teachers have had to consider:
1. Some students may not have reliable internet/Wi-Fi.
2. Some [younger students] are not accustomed to technology, as older students would be.
3. Some students may be cared for by someone other than their parents (due to their parents being first responders and working longer or different shifts). Therefore, the guardian’s comfort level of helping with the online assigned work may be varied (e.g., grandparent watching them).
4. Ellen Bannis, Grandview School principal, humorously shared that in the early days, students needed to be reminded that they were in school, so PJs weren't allowed. They quickly learned to use the mute button, as early days included noisy siblings or parents conversing with them in the background.

Reports from schools show them going the extra mile to help students. Dwight Rule, a secondary school teacher at Crawford Adventist Academy, mentioned educational support via Google Classroom and established group chats, as well as a Student Success Centre for students who have serious issues.

When asked which software they used, Google Classrooms came out on top. Jason Perkins explained that at CPES, as in other schools, employees have created Google Classrooms for each grade or subject taught. They then designed and incorporated different types of learning modules and online software, including a few that were already in use (e.g., Mathletics, Spelling City, Raz Kids). Students and teachers stay connected through Zoom classrooms. Despite the challenges, few teachers would disagree with Sara Mora, K-6 French teacher at Crawford, who stated, “I am grateful that we live in such a technologically adept society.”

More than reading, writing and ‘rithmetic

Most schools have also taken into consideration students’ social and spiritual needs. For instance, Perkins noted that teachers were planning to have regular morning worship and a brief Bible lesson. David Forsey, Teaching Principal – Adventist Christian Elementary School, recounted a whole-school Zoom meeting where the local pastor led worship—"that was really nice!" Showing sensitivity to students’ social needs, he added, "I allow students to be in Zoom longer than class time so they can visit and share.  I have taught them different ways for them to chat and video conference, so they are not so lonely."

Other efforts to provide holistic education include an initiative for Grandview School students to create posters at home and scan them to Bannis, for her to send to Heritage Green Nursing Home to be printed and shared among the residents and staff. “We are trying to do our part,” she explained.

The week of April 27, Crawford held a virtual High School Week of Prayer. Featuring Pastor Andrew Fuller, from the UK, as the main speaker, as well as alums Elizabeth Pule (Family Ministries director) and Nyasha Smith-Ruddock (MSW, counsellor) doing helpful segments, it answered the question – “Where is God Right Now?”

Looking on the bright side

Undoubtedly, e-learning isn't easy. Dureine Jean said, “We miss our daily interactions. It is vital in kindergarten and for me because I am a people person. A lot of what we do is hands-on, cooperative play and so on. We are all hoping to get back in our classroom as soon as possible.”
Conversely, Ellen Bannis said, “The feedback from the students re the new type of learning is positive. One even asked that when we go back to schools, should he be sick, can he Zoom in?”

Dwight Rule enthused, “This has been a wonderful journey so far conducting online instruction. Students have been adapting well, and parents have expressed sincere, keen interest in how this platform works. By observation, this should be a Plan B for delivering lessons if such a pandemic occurs again."

Overall, teachers are looking on the bright side. So far, their commitment to Adventist Education, community approach, where teachers help one another, students and families, patience, humour and lots of prayers have seen them through.

Jason Perkins said, “I know that if we continue to trust in Jesus, He will see us through these terrible times.” Dureine concluded, “Until [we return to the classroom], we remain happy and healthy Creation Kids.” 

Thank you, teachers, for all you do!

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