The Covid-19 pandemic and resulting school closures have posed great challenges to education which the Renfrew County Catholic District School Board (RCCDSB) has faced head-on.
“Our initial priority was to get as many students as possible up and running with the necessary access to use digital learning platforms,” says Jaimie Perry, RCCDSB Director of Education. Almost over-night the switch was made to distance learning. “Though we pride ourselves on the warmth, hospitality, good humour and joy that is fostered in the physical spaces of our classrooms and schools, we know the whole RCCDSB team has done its very best in this emergency situation to reach students.”
With the measures put in place to date the Board’s reach extends to 96% of our student families.
While the Board’s Curriculum Program Team diligently worked to provide support for teacher-led distance learning, the Learning Technology Team worked to broaden the WiFi network at each school in order to provide safe access from school parking lots for families with no internet at home.
A lending program was also quickly initiated to address the needs of families that did not have devices. The program has lent 600 devices (i.e., Chromebooks, iPads) to enable students to continue their learning.
“All in all, it was a collaborative group effort,” explains Superintendent of Educational Services Mark Searson. Principals and teachers identified students/families in need of the devices, the Renfrew County Joint Transportation Consortium (RCJTC) mapped out efficient delivery routes, and the plant team used RCCDSB vans to make deliveries. For those families who wished, safe pick-up of devices was arranged at schools.
Three main platforms are being utilized to suit the needs of students from Kindergarten through to Grade 12. Kindergarten and primary classrooms are working in Seesaw; the majority of classrooms are using Google Classroom; and some secondary students are working in Brightspace, which was already being used for e-learning courses.
“With the measures put in place to date, the Board’s reach extends to 96% of our student families,” states Searson, “but we’re striving to reach even more.”
The Board is now in the midst of purchasing WiFi hotspots to provide additional students with internet access from home.
Working with the Renfrew County District Health Unit (RCDHU), a protocol was developed to allow a small number of RCCDSB staff to access the schools to put together learning packages with paper materials and other physical materials.
“Learning isn’t only going online, it’s going on the road in order to serve those families who are digitally marginalized,” says Elizabeth Burchat, RCCDSB Superintendent of Educational Services.
Kellie Hisko, RCCDSB Indigenous Education Lead, led another initiative to get basic school supplies out to 48 families serving the needs of 100 students across the Board. Schools provided Hisko with names and addresses and, once again, the RCJTC put together routes for delivery of the packages to homes throughout the county.
The Board’s Mental Health Team has been reaching out regularly to students and families since the school closure began. They have been assisting families in making connections with community partners, continuing to provide support to students on their caseload and accepting new referrals from schools while also exploring the use of secure video platforms to provide more avenues for service.
School teams continue to work diligently to support students with special education needs in this new environment as well. Specialized equipment, such as tech devices, educational programs and learning equipment has been delivered to families and more will be delivered in the coming weeks.
“We are connecting with families on an ongoing basis to determine what kinds of learning supports and materials would be most beneficial for students with complex needs as they learn at home. This communication and partnership with families is vital in helping us to adjust our programs and supports to meet those needs in meaningful and effective ways,” says Mary-Lise Rowat, Superintendent of Educational Services.
“The business operations of the board are also continuing during this pandemic period,” notes Mary Lynn Schauer, Superintendent of Business Services.
Staff are responding to inquiries and completing Ministry reports, caretakers have deep-cleaned schools and are continuing to inspect and disinfect the buildings, and Plant and Transportation staff are assisting schools with deliveries of technology and curriculum materials to the school community.
The Board is working with local community partners regarding the collaboration and sharing of surplus medical supplies to frontline workers, and third-party daycare provider, Children’s Garden, was able to open Emergency Child Care at Cathedral Catholic School for front-line workers with strict health and safety protocols in place for cleaning and physical distancing.
“Some very remarkable things are happening every day. I’ve been with this Board for 28 years and I have never felt more proud and more humbled by the words and actions of the students, parents and staff in our RCCDSB community,” shares Superintendent Rowat.