As families in Manitoba adjust to a new homeschooling norm, one young boy insists on maintaining some semblance of routine by starting the day off with a song.
So on Monday morning, Cristiano DiMarco, 6, and his sister Gia, 8, stood up to listen to the national anthem — at their dining room table.
"You can’t start the day without O Canada. He’s very adamant," said Catherine DiMarco, a hairstylist who has taken on a temporary teaching role for her two children, who are enrolled in grades 1 and 2 at École Tuxedo Park. The salon DiMarco works at closed up shop earlier this month as part of the COVID-19 response.
More than 200,000 students enrolled in public and independent schools across the province didn’t return to their usual classrooms Monday, when government-mandated class suspensions officially came into effect. In-person lessons, which have been put on hold so educators and students can adhere to public health officials’ social-distancing directives, are expected to resume April 13.
At the same time a provincewide state of emergency was declared last week, the premier said it was too premature to comment on whether schools might be closed for the rest of the academic year.
For the time being, families are adjusting as best as they can — by creating schedules, sharing electronic devices to access e-learning tools and swapping traditional classes for lessons on chores.
The DiMarcos are headed into the second week of satellite school: e-learning sessions, baking lessons, puzzle-building, video-call piano lessons and Duolingo French immersion.
"I don't want them to really remember this as a scary time. I want them to remember it as a cool time when we actually got to stay home, build forts and mom taught us at home for some strange reason," DiMarco said.
The mother of two said her family has been extra strict on social-distancing measures because her husband has an autoimmune disease. Luckily for the DiMarcos, they're fortunate enough to have access to the technology required to complete online tasks, whether it be FaceTiming family friends in lieu of in-person playdates or logging onto the computer to complete homework.
In the opposite corner of the city, Reuben Garang spent his Monday morning juggling laptop use. A father of children who attend grades 4, 6, 9 and 11 in the River East Transcona School Division, Garang is sharing his work laptop with his children; each student was assigned online work.
"A lot of families do not have computers at home and families do not necessarily have the language (to help with lessons)," said Garang, who works at Immigration Partnership Winnipeg. "It’s going to be a challenge for students to keep up with all that they need to do."
A grade 5-6 teacher at École Stanley Knowles School, Phil Cook said he communicated with the majority of his class online Monday. He plans to follow-up with the remainder to ensure everyone is getting the message — though students also received homework packages with core subject content for the suspension.
Cook is optimistic about the temporary transition because of the relationships he's built with his students and their families since September.
Even if students have technology at the ready, troubleshooting posed a challenge for some trying to complete online tasks Monday.
"A lot of families do not have computers at home and families do not necessarily have the language (to help with lessons)." — Reuben Garang
Matthew Cameron, a Grade 8 teacher at Laidlaw School, said he suspects the companies behind different online classroom softwares hadn’t expected such widespread use first thing Monday morning. The result, he said, has been software crashes. Cameron is communicating with his students through digital learning system Edsby and other products like Microsoft OneDrive.
As far as Cameron's concerned, the glitches show students are eager to learn online.
"It’s allowed the opportunity for more direct feedback and immediate feedback with (my students). I think it’s going to be a smooth transition once we get through the first week of it being new and novel," Cameron said.
Meanwhile, at home, parents are faced with the ever-present assignment of getting students to balance screen time and school work.
Nicole Sauvé, whose two early years students attend Robert Smith School in Selkirk, has created a detailed schedule to keep her kids on task and distracted from the constant temptation of the television set.
"They just wanted to continue to the weekend," Sauvé said on Monday morning about her children, who are in grades 2 and 4.
"I tried to get them out of their pajamas and get them to get ready so they’re in a different mode than home mode."
Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.
Updated on Monday, March 23, 2020 at 10:10 PM CDT: Fixes misspelled last names in photo captions.