While thousands of children in Quebec have returned to the classroom, roughly half of the student population in Kahnawake, Que., are expected to be starting the new school year from home.
It’s an option parents had at the Kahnawake Education Center, which oversees two elementary schools and one high school in the Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) community south of Montreal.
“Our community has been so cautious. Our community has been very assertive in making sure that we do what’s best for us,” said Robin Delaronde, director of education at the Kahnawake Education Center.
Across the rest of the province, school attendance is mandatory unless parents have obtained a note from a doctor.
Delaronde said Kahnawake’s schools developed a home learning program as an alternative in response to health and safety concerns expressed by parents about returning to school.
The three schools each have preventative measures in order to mitigate possible COVID-19 transmission when they welcome back students next week. However, Delaronde said a choice for parents during these unprecedented times needed to be supported.
“There are so many perspectives that have to be taken into consideration, to understand that people have this perspective that they need to take care of their children, [and] of their grandparents who live with them, and we needed to provide two options for our community,” said Delaronde.
Home learning support
Under the home learning program, parents and guardians will be responsible for teaching content, but instructional materials, resources, and expected learning goals will be provided by their respective schools.
Students will remain enrolled in their respective schools, will have access to iPads and Chromebooks if they need them, and families will have the support of a dedicated distance learning teacher.
“We understand what it takes as educators to teach a child. It’s an immense responsibility,” said Delaronde.
“This is not easy, even with one child…. We wanted to make sure we provide all the services to them so that there’s progress and these children can succeed.”
The KEC said roughly 50 per cent of parents at the three schools expressed interest in the home learning program.
Jasmine Dearhouse is among the parents at Kateri School who is keeping her nine-year-old son Phoenix home. He’s about to start Grade 4 in the school’s French immersion program.
“It was a hard decision and I went back and forth a few times,” she said.
“My biggest concern is his health, but [also] the language barrier on my end because he is in French immersion.”
She said the guidelines released by the education centre last week with more information about the program relieved many of her concerns.
“We’re going to have a lot of support from the school,” said Dearhouse.
“If I decide it’s not working or if he wants to go back, I can opt back in.”
Limiting risk to the vulnerable
Schools reopened in Quebec two weeks ago and according to the provincial government, there have been 120 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among students and school staff as of Tuesday.
It’s something Susie McGregor doesn’t want to risk even though there are no cases of COVID-19 currently in Kahnawake. The young mother of two was diagnosed with stage 4 colorectal cancer and is in chemotherapy, which is why her seven-year-old son Abel will be in Kateri School’s home learning program.
“It’s not something we want to risk,” said McGregor.
“The fact that the school has been so forthcoming with help has been amazing.”
Abel said he is not too happy about his summer ending, but doing home learning means being able to spend more time out on the land in Tioweró:ton, a territory 79 kilometres north of Montreal that Kahnawake shares with Kanesatake for hunting, fishing, and gathering medicines.
“Him and his father will be hiking, tracking animals, so he’s getting his gym class — we’re just not calling it gym class,” said McGregor.
“He has a run of snare lines in the winter that he has to check, so he’s got his own responsibilities to keep him busy.”