For Olusoga Tomoloju, principal of Maani Ulujuk Ilinniarvik in Rankin Inlet, the Covid-19 pandemic wasn’t the only challenge his students and staff faced this school year.
“We started the school year with one tragic incident after another,” he said, noting losses in the community and even among his own relatives. “We supported each other to pull through during that period.”
The school held trauma-sensitive workshops in the beginning of the year and employed self-care strategies to help students and staff manage the array of emotions they found themselves confronted with.
To deal with the pandemic, teachers had to be creative with their instruction to provide opportunity for individualized learning within Covid-19 guidelines, said Tomoloju.
That included using learning packages, social media, radio, emails and phone calls to keep in touch with students. At MUI, it even extended to food hamper programs, where the school provided bags of groceries for families.
“While we focus on continuity of learning and learning recovery, simultaneously, we also make sure that we support the social, emotional needs of our students by checking in on them and providing wellbeing packages and food hampers to support our students and family as a community,” he said.
Find more stories on Nunavummiut advancing their education in the Degrees of Success 2022, available online here: https://www.nunavutnews.com/special-feature/special-feature-pdfs/degrees-of-success-2022/
Education Minister Pamela Gross addressed anemic attendance rates, made worse by the pandemic, while speaking in the Legislative Assembly on March 8.
“The department has seen lower attendance rates due to Covid-19, with students isolating, teachers isolating, or people who have contracted Covid-19 and the attendance rates have gone down significantly,” said Gross. “The trend has been since Omicron that we’re seeing about 23 per cent attendance rates across the territory.”
But the news hasn’t been all bad during the past two years. In 2021, 287 students graduated from Nunavut high schools, which is the second highest number of graduates in the territory’s history.
Troy Rhoades, senior communications adviser with the Department of Education, stated in an email that the department recognizes the disruptions the pandemic has had on in-person learning for students and how it affects their academic performance.
The department aimed to stay true to seven key assessment principles in Nunavut schools: supporting continuous learning for all students; showing respect for all learners, recognizing each student’s unique talents and skills; emphasizing the interdependence, growth and success of the group; ensuring assessment is outcome-based; having different purposes for assessment; and ensuring assessment is authentic, meaningful and builds on student strengths.
Based on those principles, the department’s guidelines were a “triangulation” of evidence of core curriculum competencies, including marking of assignments, conversations with students about their school work and observations teachers have made of their students.
“Throughout the pandemic, schools have shown that they can be creative and innovative to ensure learning continues,” stated Rhoades. “They have used the triangulation of evidence approach to assess their students’ learning by ensuring that students demonstrate the skills that align with curriculum outcomes. The demonstration of these skills can be provided by the correction of learning packages and homework, but also by students meeting curriculum outcomes through evidence provided in other activities, such as sharing photos of school projects made at home, telephone conversations with their teacher or through cultural activities and life skills, like hunting or completing a sewing project.”
Since January 2022, school attendance has been lower throughout the territory due to pandemic repercussions. The department encourages students to return to school but understands some families may be afraid to send their children to in-person classes.
“While we can never eliminate all the risks, we are doing everything we can to protect the health and safety of students and staff,” stated Rhoades.
Doug Workman, chair of the Iqaluit District Education Authority, echoed that concern shared by some parents.
“They’re fearful of their children being infected,” he said.
After Iqaluit schools went to 100-per-cent capacity Jan. 31, contract tracing found Covid cases in the high school and elementary schools, he said.
He praised the department for its work in supporting high schoolers with laptops to facilitate remote learning, but said the current Covid policies are resulting in teacher shortages.
“One challenge for us here has been the personal hazard assessment tool,” he said.
The tool is a checklist everyone is used to by now, where staff circle if they have any symptoms from a runny nose to “not feeling well.”
If staff answer that they have any of the symptoms, they are told to notify their supervisor, go home or stay home and self-isolate right away. Then, if symptoms persist in the coming days, they are told to get tested, said Workman.
“We had to cancel classes in some of the schools here because we didn’t have enough teachers to do coverage,” he said, adding that Iqaluit has fewer than 10 substitute teachers for the entire city.
Between the changing Covid restrictions and staff shortages, he feels for parents who have to check online early in the morning whether classes will actually be held or not.
He did praise some of the innovation teachers have demonstrated along the way in delivering instruction.