The COVID-19 pandemic has changed education profoundly in recent weeks.

Marie L.’s twins, daughter Mylaine and son Marc-Olivier are both in grade one, but in different classes at École élémentaire publique Nouvel Horizon in Hawkesbury.  Marie said both of their teachers reached out early to tell parents they were available and trying to establish distance learning options.

“Both (teachers) are using Google Classroom and both prepared some videos to talk to the kids, to encourage and reassure them,” Marie said.

Marc-Olivier and Mylaine are working on mathematics, reading, and writing at home.  The assignments from their teachers are equal to about one hour of work each day.  Marie said they sometimes adjust the amount of work in a day in order to have time to play outside.

Caroline Brunet said her daughter Chelsea’s grade five teacher at Pleasant Corners Public School (PCPS) has sent homework by email.  Chelsea does her schoolwork each afternoon from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.

“You’ve got to make it work, I work at the same time,” said Brunet of the routine that has developed at her home.

Janine Carter-Walsh said a slow internet connection and one old laptop shared between her two daughters has made things challenging, but she appreciates that they feel connected to PCPS, where they are in grades four and six.

“Thanks to the teachers for their amazing hard work and dedication, though,” she said.

Amanda Holt of St-Eugène has two children — Meredith and Pearson Fraser, who are in grades three and five at PCPS.  She said “they are doing fine,” with learning at home aside from the adjustments to a different routine, and a poor internet connection which she described as similar to “eating a steak with a teaspoon.”

Holt is working at home in her job at the Institute for Cooperative Education at Concordia University in Montréal.  Some of the winter semester internships students were completing had to be cut short, but they still met the time length for accreditation in the university’s co-op program.

Holt and her colleagues have been doing their best to assist students with the adjustment.  She noted that some international students are also grieving because loved ones in their home countries have died of COVID-19.

Natasha Fortin, a Grade 12 student at Vankleek Hill Collegiate Institute, is now completing her course work online.

“It’s very different compared to the classroom environment,” she said.

Natasha is hoping to begin studying Integrated Sciences at Dalhousie University in Halifax in September.  Fortunately, the university has been accommodating of the situation facing new students regarding the submission of grades.

Natasha was told that grade 12 students will graduate if they maintain their grades during the remainder of the school year.  Meanwhile, she has been submitting assignments online that have been sent to her by her teachers.

Madeleine, Natasha’s sister, is completing her first year studying English at Trent University in Peterborough.  Classes there were cancelled for the rest of the semester on March 13, and students were told to vacate their dorm rooms by March 18.

A final essay was cancelled in one of Madeleine’s classes and all of the previous assignments were instead counted for the final grade.  Other final exams became assignments or timed exams online.

Grenville Elementary School Principal Nancy Bennett said the Québec Ministry of Education has put lessons on its Open School website for parents to access, and teachers have customized material for students through the Sir Wilfrid Laurier School Board’s online Backpack program.

“They are going above and beyond,” said Bennett of the nine teachers and one special education technician who work at the small, 90-student school.

Entire classes are meeting on Zoom, the internet video communication program, or Google Classroom. Grenville students have had online “groove dancing” and older students have read bedtime stories to younger students in the time they have been at home.

The ministry decided that the work elementary students are doing at home will not be evaluated.

“They don’t want to turn parents into teachers, the main objective is to consolidate and maintain the skills and knowledge that students had acquired up until the school closure,” said Bennett.

Marc-Olivier is doing grade one at home during the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo: Marie L.