By: Michelle Poirier

After more than two weeks of teacher-led distance learning, parents, students and teachers are giving it mixed reviews. 

While overall student engagement is better than expected, there are nagging problems surrounding access to technology, and, for some students, especially those with learning disabilities, not enough one-on-one guidance from teachers.

Chloe St. Aman, a student in grade nine at Our Lady of the Lake Catholic Academy, is in the advanced placement program and is taking several subjects this semester, including science, math and English.

She signs in to Google Meet every day at 1 p.m. to meet her teacher for an hour and then works on the assignments posted on Google Classroom, spending approximately three hours a day completing work online. 

Chloe’s mother, Heather St. Aman-Salvati, said, so far, she likes it. But there is a considerable amount of planning required. 

“We had to create a whiteboard schedule on the wall to make it a bit easier to know when to log on each day,” she said.  

Ms. St. Aman-Salvati believes teachers are doing a good job and are available for questions.  “But with math and science, it’s hard without the one-on-one with a teacher,” she said. 

Julie Balmer and her children, Emma and Jack who attend R. L. Graham Public School, are also enjoying online learning.

“My kids love the freedom to choose their work time and to work without distractions,” she said.

“The teachers have stepped up incredibly, and they cannot be praised highly enough.”

Emma, who is in grade five, said she is worried she won’t reach her “full learning potential” this way, but is positive about the work. 

And Jack, who is in grade seven with a learning disability, said there are fewer distractions from other students, and he likes choosing his schedule. 

Jack and Emma working on their online assignments

As students and parents get used to distance learning, teachers are also adjusting to the new normal. 

“It’s had its ups and downs,” said one elementary teacher, who didn’t want her name published.  “Lesson planning has been challenging because we don’t know how long we’re going to provide distance learning.” 

She also said that students with learning disabilities are struggling. 

“We’re having difficulty reaching them because we’re talking only in messages. The student is receiving the information, but they’re being forced to process it instead of me being able to explain it to them,” she said. “I’m constrained; it’s a challenge for our special needs kids.”

Indeed, Shelly Gray, the parent of two autistic children, is finding it difficult to get her children to do the online assignments. Ms. Gray did not want her children’s names or school name published.

“My son doesn’t like it, but he’s doing it with a lot of help and prompting,” she said. 

“The Ministry hasn’t taken into consideration our special needs kids, so we are somehow expected to not only care for them, our homes, get groceries, but school them also, which is much more demanding than online schooling for typical kids of this age.” 

Her two kids each need one-on-one help. Her son, 14, is taking four subjects that require three hours a week each and her daughter, 11, has five hours a week of schoolwork.

Ms. Gray said she is thankful her sister is staying with them to help.

“We are managing it, but I go from positive about it, to mad at the Ministry to expect so much of parents who already have extra on their plates due to (COVID-19),” she said. 

Another problem facing some parents and their children is a lack of high-speed internet access and up-to-date technology.

Alison Ho has a child in grade five at Keswick Public School who has been assigned school work, but their slow internet connection has made it challenging to get online. 

“It’s frustrating sometimes. If they decide to go live stream, we will only have a five per cent chance to be able to do it,” she said.

Michelle Sedore-Goodman didn’t have computers for her three children; a son in grade ten and a daughter in grade nine at Keswick High School, and a daughter in grade two at a Jersey Public School. 

She had to pick up three laptops from their schools, but they weren’t ready in time.  Her younger daughter, for instance, was two weeks behind in her lessons before she got her laptop.  

“I think this is running forward too fast for our schools to catch up. My hopes are high for my children and all the students to succeed at this, but I feel like no one is quite ready, schools, parents and students, to take on such a huge task of online learning when it is still in its baby steps,” she said.

Both YRDSB and YCDSB state on their websites that they are doing everything they can to make sure that students have access to a computer, tablet or some kind of technology that will allow them to complete their assigned school work.

On both websites (YRDSB, YCDSB), you can also find tips for parents and students adjusting to distance learning.    

The teachers at both YRDSB and YCDSB will be using online assignments to assess the progress of elementary students until schools re-open; secondary students will be assessed and marked on their assignments. 

Only graduating students from both school boards will receive mid-term grades to allow them to apply to college and university and, at the end of the school year, all grades will receive a final report card. 

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