The school at Muskeg Lake Cree Nation has touchless hand sanitizer stations, individual desk shields and floor markings to maintain physical distancing, but teachers have another powerful weapon in the fight against COVID-19: nature.
The elementary school students at Kihiw Waciston (Eagle’s Nest) School, located 100 kilometres north of Saskatoon, spend part of their day at their desks. The rest is spent on the playground, on the sports fields, in the community apple orchards and at the nearby cultural camp.
The camp, located on an island a few kilometres from the main school building, is used for outdoor, land-based education.
Tuesday morning, teacher Alexander Tawpisim helped two of his students build a shelter. Later, he showed them how to track and snare rabbits on a densely-wooded trail.
“Classroom work is useful, (but) when we teach kids how to survive in the bush, they feel independent, successful. Not many people see the whole process of where their food comes from,” Tawpisim said.
“And I’m not worried about catching COVID when I’m out here on the island.”
On top of these measures, Kihiw Waciston also had an earlier start than most Saskatchewan schools. Teachers returned Aug. 31, and students returned last week.
Principal Brenda Anenakew said the early start allowed them to implement their plans more gradually. She said was happy to see everyone following the rules.
“The little ones, even the kindergarteners, are wearing the masks consistently. We’ve tried to do everything we can think of,” she said.
When asked if she has advice for schools across the province, she replied: “Be prepared. We have to think more outside the box.”
For the foreseeable future, students will only attend two or three days per week. They’ve all been given tablet computers to work from home on the other days.
Ahenakew and other Muskeg Lake residents are proud there hasn’t been a single case of coronavirus in the community. They said they’re trying hard to keep it that way.
At the reserve entrance, two workers in bright orange vests meets drivers to ask a few health-related questions and offer extra masks or sanitizer. They also pass information to those leaving the reserve about possible high-risk communities.
Muskeg Lake’s emergency management coordinator Jordan Rekve was at the school Tuesday to see if anyone needed help.
“We’re trying to make this as easy as possible,” Rekve, a trained firefighter and paramedic, said.
“Our school’s in good hands. A lot of these kids go home to high-risk parents or grandparents, so we want everyone to be safe.”