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This week, the director of the Kahnawake Education Center (KEC) Robin Delaronde, revealed what school will be like in Kahnawake for the 2020-2021 school year.
KEC is offering families two options for this school year: return to school onsite or partake in the KEC home learning program.
In the COVID-19 Task Force briefing, Delaronde presented two documents: KEC home learning program and the KEC parent guide.
Delaronde said the KEC home learning program was designed to address the concerns of parents who were worried, while providing an alternative to schooling.
“A lot of commitment and involvement from many people went into these two documents,” Delaronde said. “We are very proud of these comprehensive documents we created.”
The KEC home learning program is a program in which parents and their kids can mutually agree on home learning while understanding that kids must reach certain goals at specific times.
While the program is designed to be carried out at home, both primary and secondary schools will approach home learning differently: elementary home learning is not required to send kids onsite while with secondary home learning, there will be some days onsite.
However Delaronde noted that for the parents who don’t want to send their kids at all, they will be given material and resources to do everything at home.
Each school will have social distance teachers who will be available to support the family, ensure goals are being obtained and who will monitor learning progress. Instructional materials will also be available to students who need them.
Delaronde emphasized that although the schools and social distance teachers are responsible for some elements of the home schooling program, parents are responsible for the actual teaching and educating of their child.
Parents must also be present during this time and ensure assignments and deadlines are being respected.
“It’s important that they know they are active parents in this and working with their child,” Delaronde said.
Delaronde also notes that parents can opt out of the KEC home learning program if they chose to.
It was also confirmed that masks will be mandatory for students in grade 3 to grade 11, but they are encouraging nursery to grade 2 to wear them as well.
The second document that was announced was the Parent Guide. This explains to parents the extensive measures KEC has taken to ensure safety with the school, the teachers and their kids.
The document also discusses what teachers must do to ensure classrooms are clean, what to expect in common areas, washroom protocol and visitors. There will also be specific instructions for ventilation of classrooms and protocols if you come into contact with someone who tested positive or if a kid has tested positive.
KEC will also be collaborating with Infection Prevention and Control Canada to train staff and students on Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), the sequence of putting on and taking off masks, hand hygiene, respiratory etiquette, and not sharing school supplies.
Posters will be posted in schools with the information and videos shown in classes on a regular basis.
Parents have until today (September 4) to decide whether or not they want their kids to partake in the home learning program or return to school onsite.
To be eligible to take part in the KEC home learning program, students must be currently enrolled at Kateri, Karonhianónhnha or Kahnawake Survivial School.
However, for parents like Katie Deer, her daughter is not able to take part in the KEC home learning program because Deer was told Kateri School was already full after she tried to enroll her daughter in grade 4.
Deer stated that originally, her daughter went to St. Willibrord School outside the community, but back in March, KEC had contacted her and asked what her plans were for the following school year.
Deer said they encouraged her to send her daughter back to Kateri where she previously attended up until grade 2, saying that it would be safer to keep kids in the community rather than send them out to public schools in surrounding areas.
“I took their advice, that’s what they had suggested,” Deer said. “It just made sense to have her in our community instead of out there.”
Deer said KEC left a message on September 1 telling her there was no room for her daughter because of the pandemic.
“It sounded like a closed-ended conversation,” Deer said. “There was no, we can speak about options or volunteering any help, nothing.”
Deer, who works in Akwesasne as a nurse, is feeling overwhelmed and doesn’t know where to send her daughter now.
“I don’t know what to do or where to go and I didn’t want to send her out of town with COVID-19 numbers going up, I wanted her in our town, in our community,” Deer said.
When asked about the particular situation, Delaronde said that having to come up with the KEC home learning program and prepare for students coming back has already been an immense strain for educators.
“I understand their dilemma and concerns,” Delaronde said.
Delaronde also noted that a verbal conversation does guarantee a placement in a school.
“We have limited capability both with onsite and home learning,” Delaronde said. “Until forms are officially handed in then that’s when the process occurs, just having verbal talk doesn’t guarantee a placement until a form is handed in.”
“But I would strongly recommend to reach out to an administrator and voice formally their concern to the respected school,” Delaronde said. “I’m pretty certain that if they contact the school they will be more than likely re-admitted.”
Sending kids back
Tina Stacey is a single mother who works full-time and has no choice but to send both her daughters back to school.
One of her daughters attends Kahnawake Survival School in grade 10 and her other daughter attends Karonhianónhnha School in grade 5.
“I wish they could stay home and learn. but my kids need hands-on learning and resource help in school,” Stacey said.
While Stacey is a little worried that her oldest daughter has to take the school bus, she is confident she is knowledgable about social distancing, hand hygiene and mask wearing since she worked at Step by Step this summer with young children.
“For my younger daughter, she will not be taking the bus because I don’t feel like they totally understand the social distance rules at her age,” Stacey said. “They are younger and more hyper. Also, they miss their friends and want to be close to them so I believe that this will be a very big challenge the younger children.”
Stacey has a hand sanitizing station when you walk into her house and said her daughters know to use it. When her daughters get home from school, their temperatures will be checked and they will be change and wash their clothes.
Stacey said while she is worried, she’s confident that the schools will keep her daughters safe.
“But I’m also worried at the same time as to what other people are doing at home to be safe as well; like are they doing what we do? Are they as precautious as us? Do they not care as much, etc.?” Stacey said.
“All sorts of things are going through my head all the time.”
Community members from afar
Jenn Soucia from Kanesatake, who now lives in Malone, New York with her husband and two sons, is going to have both her sons at home for this school year.
One of her sons will be homeschooled and the other will complete the school year remotely with his public school.
Her oldest son has been homeschooled since grade 1 and is going into his sixth year of homeschooling, and her youngest son who attends public school is going into grade 3.
Soucia says had the school not offered distance learning, she would have homeschooled both her sons.
“Since COVID-19, I have had other parents come to me to talk about homeschooling as an option,” Soucia said. “I think a lot of us are uneasy about returning our kids to school, and are wanting to explore every option available.”
Soucia explains that having both sons at home presents its challenges.
“I don’t know yet what our daily routine will look like this year,” Soucia said. “I’m ready for there to be a lot of trial and error in making sure both my children feel comfortable and supported, but I’m hoping we’ll have it all sorted out within the first couple of weeks.”
However, Soucia is much happier to have them safe at home.
“I think it’s a fair trade when I know my kids are safe and healthy at home.”
Proud of the decisions
While schools outside the community have began opening their doors to students, Delaronde is happy her and her team decided to delay the opening and create a home learning program as an alternative option.
“We are extremely proud of the decision made, the delays we agreed to, and to take this slowly,” Delaronde said. “I would say by doing that it really allowed us the time in collaborating with more training, the Infection Prevention and Control Centre, nurses, training students.”
Delaronde said on September 14 there will be orientation for all students by individual appointments, to meet their teachers and go over particulars.
The following week the students who have chosen to come back for onsite learning will start coming back slowly and by the last Monday in September everyone will be settled in.
“It was an immense amount of work to create these extremely comprehensive documents,” Delaronde said.
Delaronde notes she’s also very proud that they provided an alternative to parents who don’t want to send their kids back to school, citing that other schools outside the community have not provided this alternative unless their kids have a medical condition.
“I prefer that when students are walking into our schools they are welcomed by teachers who also feel safe.”