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How does school work when students and teachers are in and out of quarantine?

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With several Calgary schools already reporting COVID-19 outbreaks during the first weeks of classes, parents, students and teachers are wondering what happens to learning when some students and teachers have to go into quarantine?

Joanne Pitman, superintendent of school improvement with the Calgary Board of Education, says the situation is still evolving.

“It is an ever changing situation, and as we experience different variables of this, we’re making improvements as we go,” Pitman told the Calgary Eyeopener. “Where we have a teacher who is quarantining along with their entire class, that teacher continues to teach online.”

Pitman says a teacher’s online presence will provide a sense of continuity.

“Right now, what we have made sure of is all of our teachers are required to have an online presence either in Google classroom or through D2L, which is a learning management system,” she said. “The focus for each of those is that they maintain a daily presence, and documentation of assignments and or instructions and course resources.”

Pitman conceded the first weeks back to school, and the now more than 35 school outbreaks, have presented challenges.

“In an earlier interview this spring, I referenced it as a return to school will take a herculean effort on the part of us all. And it is certainly taking that,” Pitman said. “And we’ve seen incredible commitment. Having said that, managing the range of emotions, and the concerns that are continually identified, we have to work through those in a measured way.”

Outbreaks in schools are declared whenever there are two or more cases in a single school.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, chief medical officer of health for the province, reported Monday that the 35 Alberta schools had reported a total of 42 cases. That has increased today in Calgary, with more schools reporting new cases. 

With community transmission levels higher in the past few weeks, it is not surprising to see cases in schools, Hinshaw said. She urged parents to remain patient with the 14-day isolation requirement.

“I recognize that this is very inconvenient for families, and I regret the impact that this is having on those students and their families,” she said.

The Calgary schools with outbreaks are Notre Dame High School, Lester B. Pearson High School, Henry Wise Wood High School, Crescent Heights High School and Auburn Bay School. There is an outbreak at Ross Sheppard High School in Edmonton, and Chinook High School in Lethbridge.  

On Tuesday, St. Wilfrid Elementary School, which is part of the Catholic system, declared a watch. That means there are five or more cases and the disease could have been transmitted in the school.

Some parents are growing concerned about how students can effectively keep learning as both teachers and students go in and out of quarantine. Additionally, teachers have to be prepared to do both in-person and online teaching depending on what happens with their students or their own children.

The outbreaks mean that hundreds of students, and some teachers, are at home for at least two weeks.

Parent concerns

The Calgary Eyeopener spoke with the parent of a Grade 10 student from Bowness High School who is now quarantined at home.

“It really surprises me that this hasn’t been figured out. They had time to anticipate the upcoming challenges, and they don’t seem prepared at all,” said the parent, who did not want to be identified to protect the privacy of her son.

She is concerned about the mental health of her son, who is now trying to learn in isolation after attending just four days of school. 

“It’s been very challenging. He has a learning disability. So this is not kind of what we envisioned the year to look like, on top of the fact that he’s isolating in the basement, away from his activities and his family and his friends, he’s finding it very difficult to teach himself,” she said.

“We’ve looked at bringing on a tutor to try to get him caught up because we’re quite concerned that he’s going to be behind at the start of the year.”

According to the CBE’s website, only close contacts of a person who is a COVID-19 case are required to quarantine. Family members and secondary contacts are not required to quarantine — which explains why only some people from any given class are required to stay away.

And that’s just for those who choose to return to school in person. Families who signed up for the CBE’s Hub online learning program say they’re still waiting for elusive details on who their child’s teacher is and when the online learning will begin. 

The concerned parent from Bowness High School said the online learning plan seems to rely on kids like her son being able to navigate everything on their own.

“He needs support at school. He needs to be taught how to do classes with direction and instruction. And he’s not getting that,” she said.

She wondered why her son couldn’t just video conference into the classroom, to lessen his sense of isolation.

Privacy concerns with live streaming

But as Pitman points out, live streaming classrooms comes with a host of privacy concerns.

“There are absolutely some privacy concerns with live streaming into a classroom,” Pitman said. “In terms of FOIP and privacy of what occurs within a school, we certainly have legislation and regulations that we need to make sure are followed carefully. But we also recognize the pressure on trying to create flexibility during absolute disruption.” 

Pitman said one solution could be pre-recorded lessons from a teacher that the student could watch at home.

Pitman said the CBE is also working on plans to ensure that no students are penalized for falling behind due to quarantine or if they become ill.

“It isn’t solely that they can just maintain simultaneous handing in of assignments or assignment completion.… There may need to be certain assignments that are waived or certain assignments that are prioritized,” she said. “All of it requires significant followup. There’s no way to make this sound simple or make it an easy answer, because it is also really contextual to the individual as well.”

Students won’t be penalized

Pitman says the situation will continue to evolve.

“I think that we have seen incredible commitment on both our families, our staff, our administrators and all of the varied support staff and facilities,” she said. “We’ve already made and continue to adjust plans to respond to the various pressures.… And also our staff have put forward an incredible effort as they also make sense of the realities, both for their professional and personal life.”

The CBE says parents will be notified by Alberta Health Services if their child may have been exposed to a confirmed case of COVID-19 at school, and public health officials will contact those who were in close contact with the person.


With files from the Calgary Eyeopener.

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Education

Back to school: When sniffles mean COVID-19 tests, self-isolation; how families are coping

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TORONTO —
The start of school is typically a stressful time for families, but none more so than this year as families try to adjust to a new reality in which even the slightest sniffle or minor headache could mean COVID-19 tests, days of isolation, and interruptions to education and work.

Now that schools and daycares across the country have reopened and welcomed students back, coronavirus cases numbers have crept back up in certain regions, forcing children and staff to return home to get tested for the virus and self-isolate.

In some cases, entire schools have shut down in response to rising case counts, such as in Montreal where one private high school, Herzliah High School, suspended in-person learning for two weeks after more than a dozen students and staff tested positive for COVID-19.

While medical experts have been warning the public for months there would be a second wave of cases in the fall, the practical implications for families are only just being realized.

Dr. Andrew Morris, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Toronto and the Sinai Health system who contributed to a report by medical experts on the return to school, said public health authorities are working closely with school boards to find the right balance of teaching students while keeping them and their families safe.

“It’s really complicated. There aren’t, unfortunately, any simple fixes right now,” he told CTVNews.ca during a telephone interview on Thursday.

SYMPTOM SCARES

The confluence of coronavirus, flu, and allergies has made identifying symptoms for each a tricky task with most schools and daycares erring on the side of caution and mandating that children who exhibit any symptoms, whether it be a cough or stomach ache or runny nose, to stay home and get tested for COVID-19.

While the guidance varies across provinces and regions, generally, families have been asked to asses their children’s symptoms before taking them to school or daycare and to keep them home if there’s any sign of sickness.

“The advice in many ways hasn’t really changed,” Morris said. “Sick kids shouldn’t be going to school.”

If the child develops symptoms during the day, most schools and daycares are asking families to take them home and have them tested for coronavirus or self-isolate for two weeks before they will be allowed to return.

That was the case for Denise Faubert’s 10-year-old daughter who was sent home from her Ottawa elementary school on Monday because she had developed a headache.

“My daughter was sent home for a headache because she was dehydrated because they’re in a portable and they don’t want to drink a lot because they don’t want to go into the school to go to the bathroom,” she explained.

“We got home, literally an hour-and-a-half later, after a little Tylenol, she was fine. Like literally fine, jumping, going on the internet, going outside.”

Despite her daughter’s improvement, Faubert said she was forced to pick up her 15-year-old daughter from a nearby high school and bring her home as well. The next day, she drove her younger daughter to a testing clinic in Casselman, Ont., located 50 kilometres outside of Ottawa, for the test because the lineups in the city were too long.

On Wednesday night, Faubert said her daughter’s test results came back negative and both of her children were allowed to return to school the next day after she sent the results to both schools.

“The schools are so paranoid,” she said. “The guidelines for what they’re required to look for…They’re just too afraid of keeping anyone at school.”

TESTING CONCERNS

Faubert’s concerns were echoed by other parents who spoke with CTV News about their worries for what the school year will look like if they have to keep picking up their child, getting them tested, or self-isolating every time they have exhibit a symptom.

Sharon Cheng-Ghafour said she felt most anxious about having to take her 20-month-old twins to a Toronto hospital for COVID-19 testing after one of them woke up on Monday morning with a dry cough. Even though she suspected it was only a minor irritation and not the virus, she decided to keep the twins home as a precaution and informed their daycare.

Cheng-Ghafour said the daycare operator told her the twins wouldn’t be able to return unless they received a negative test result or after 14 days. She said she wished there was a pediatric assessment centre where she could have taken her children instead of the ER, but the drive-thru testing centres don’t test children under the age of two.

“You don’t want the ERs to be loaded with these parents to try to prove that their kids don’t have COVID,” she said.

With long lineups and not enough sites in some regions, Morris said the testing backlog poses a risk to the school system because families may become more reluctant to report symptoms if they know they will have to go through an ordeal to have their child tested.

“The fact that we are having people wait in line for hours, the fact that we don’t have the capacity at the moment, and for a variety of means, to do all the testing that is being demanded, that’s a huge risk to our fight against COVID,” he said.

In an effort to respond to the increasing demand for tests, provinces are scrambling to introduce more testing sites, such as at pharmacies in Ontario and Alberta, mobile clinics in Quebec, and an easier method of testing using a “mouth rinse gargle” in B.C. to speed up the process.

INTERRUPTIONS

All of the parents CTV News spoke said they were concerned about how they would be able to manage their schedules if they’re required to pick up their children, take them for a test, stay at home with them, and work at the same time.

“I don’t know how it’s going to work in the future,” Cheng-Ghafour said. “If every time somebody has a sniffle or dry cough or something, we have to stay home for 14 days… I’m just in the process of opening a new practice and I’m thinking ‘I don’t know how it’s going to work.’”

Miriam Beamish said she’s having a particularly difficult time caring for her four-year-old daughter and making these decisions on her own after her husband died. The Toronto mother said she had to drop everything and pick up her son from his kindergarten class at a private daycare in the city after he developed a runny nose.

She said her son didn’t end up having COVID-19 and he always has a runny nose at this time of year so he was able to return a few days later, but it’s stressful to think she may have to go through this again.

“I don’t have somebody who to make these big decisions with. I have to make them all by myself and it’s really hard to know what the right thing to do is,” she said. “It’s just such a scary, scary time.”

In addition to the disruption in parents’ lives, Gilda Benhamou, whose son attends the Montreal private high school that paused in-person learning, said she’s concerned about the impact on his education.

“I’m more worried about my son’s education,” she told CTV News Montreal on Thursday. “I think the school is going above and beyond and has done everything in their power to make sure the kids are safe.”

Morris said families will have to try to be adaptable as they can as public health guidance and school policies evolve over the course of the school year in response to virus’ spread.

“Things are going to change. They [families] are getting used to changes. They’re about to have more changes,” he said. “We need to learn to adapt. When you get more information, you need to be adaptable.”

With files from CTV News Montreal  

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Finalists announced for 2020 Nature Inspiration Awards from Canadian Museum of Nature

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OTTAWA, Sept. 18, 2020 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — The Canadian Museum of Nature, Canada’s national museum of natural history and natural sciences, is pleased to announce the 23 finalists and the Lifetime Achievement recipient for its 2020 Nature Inspiration Awards.

These national awards, now in their seventh year, celebrate projects by individuals, groups and organizations whose leadership and innovation connect Canadians with the natural world. Due to COVID precautions, this year’s winners will be announced by the museum on November 25 through online means, rather than during an in-person gala ceremony.

The projects led by this year’s finalists, which were selected from among 85 nominations, address topics that include biodiversity and conservation, environmental education, and sustainable practices.

Among them are youth who advocate about the wonder of species diversity, as well as adults who galvanize others to conserve natural areas. Not-for-profits show leadership in education to preserve waterways and forests, engagement of citizen-scientists, and the protection of natural environments. The businesses being recognized show innovation with the development of “green” products, as well as environmental stewardship programs.

This year’s laureate of the Lifetime Achievement Award is spiritual leader, teacher and conservationist Father Charles Brandt, who lives in Black Creek, British Columbia. Now aged 97, the “hermit-priest” is best known for galvanizing volunteers and spearheading a campaign to successfully clean up the Tsolum River on Vancouver Island. This helped revitalize the river’s salmon population, which had declined due to pollution from an abandoned copper mine.

The shortlist for the 2020 awards comprises finalists in six categories: Youth (aged 17 and younger), Individuals (aged 18 and up), Not-for-Profits (small to medium), Not-for-Profits (large), Businesses (small to medium), and Businesses (large).

“Unlike past years, these 2020 awards are being announced at a time when access to nature, and a healthy connection with the natural world, seem more important than ever. Each of the finalists lead by example and inspire us in supporting a sustainable future,” says Meg Beckel, President and CEO of the Canadian Museum of Nature and Chair/ex-officio member of the selection jury. “We are pleased to recognize the efforts of our finalists, and even though we are forgoing our usual celebration gala, we look forward to acknowledging their achievements online through our website and social media channels.”

The Nature Inspiration Awards are supported by media partners The Globe and Mail and the Walrus. Category sponsors are the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) for the Youth Award, and Ontario Power Generation for the Not-for-Profits (small to medium) Award.       

The jury included Shelley Ambrose, former Executive Director/Co-Publisher, The Walrus; Caitlyn Baikie, Education Policy Advisor, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami; Carolynn Beaty, Director of Granting, The Sitka Foundation; Jack Cockwell, Chairman/CEO, Partners Limited; Philip Crawley, Publisher, The Globe and Mail; Dolf DeJong, CEO, Toronto Zoo; Marti Ford, Executive Director, Arctic Inspiration Prize; John Geiger, CEO, Royal Canadian Geographical Society; Danika Goosney, Vice-President, Scholarships and Fellowships, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council; Geoff Green, Founder and Executive Director, Students on Ice Foundation; and Erica Thompson, Senior National Director, Conservation Engagement and Development, Nature Conservancy of Canada.

Winners for each category receive $5,000 that they can designate to a nature-related program of their choice. The Nature Inspiration Awards are produced by the Canadian Museum of Nature. Full details, as well as profiles of the finalists, can be found at nature.ca/awards.                                                                                                                                      

Here is the list of finalists:
Youth category (aged 17 and under)

  • Vesa Barileva, youth scientist (biodegradable food packaging), Oakville, Ontario
  • Genevieve Leroux, environmental advocate for the Monarch Butterfly, Gatineau, Quebec
  • Grace Gong, founder of Greenshirt, not-for-profit that diverts used clothing from landfill, Mississauga, Ontario
  • Sophia Spencer, author, insect enthusiast and founder of #BugsR4Girls, Sarnia, Ontario

Individual category (aged 18 and up)

  • Nory Esteban, teacher and naturalist, coordinator of Wings over the Rockies bird festival, Port Coquitlam, British Columbia
  • Elin Kelsey, environmental activist and author, Victoria, British Columbia
  • Amanda McConnell, co-founder of Grassroots Albany, a community forum for environmental discussion and action, Toronto, Ontario
  • Gary Schneider, environmentalist and co-founder of the Environmental Coalition of PEI, Stratford, Prince Edward Island

Not-For-Profit category (small/medium organization)

  • International Conservation Fund of Canada, programs to conserve threatened tropical ecosystems, Chester, Nova Scotia
  • Tree Canada, community engagement for tree-planting, Ottawa, Ontario
  • Water Rangers, citizen-science efforts to collect water quality data, Ottawa, Ontario

Not-For-Profit category (large organization)

  • Beaty Water Research Centre, research, education and outreach about aquatic ecosystems, and clean water. Kingston, Ontario
  • David Suzuki Foundation, Butterflyway Project: planting local wildflower, plant and shrubs patches Vancouver, British Columbia
  • Goodwill Industries of Alberta, diversion and reuse of goods from landfill, Edmonton, Alberta
  • Nature-Action Québec, protection and preservation of natural areas in Montreal’s urban areas, Beloeil, Quebec

Business category (small to medium)

  • FireRein Inc, development of bio-based, non-toxic foams for use by firefighters, Napanee, Ontario
  • PBA Tundra Supply, Ltd., research and development of a maple hybrid to grow in adverse soil conditions, West Elgin, Ontario
  • Sans façon, integration of a stormwater treatment facility into the design of an urban public park, Calgary Alberta
  • ULAT Dryer Balls, invention, patent and development of wool dryer balls Parksville, British Columbia

Business category (large)

  • Fresh City Farms, Canada’s largest commercial urban farm, with a sustainable and locally focussed approach, North York, Ontario
  • Nutrien, use of a waste byproduct from the phosphate fertilizer industry to create soil and grow trees. Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta
  • Ontario Power Generation, implementation of biodiversity conservation programs and environmental assessments, Toronto, Ontario
  • TELUS, sustainable business practices towards 2030 carbon neutral goal, including tree-planting program to offset paper usage, Ottawa, Ontario

About the Canadian Museum of Nature
Saving the world through evidence, knowledge and inspiration! The Canadian Museum of Nature provides evidence-based insights, inspiring experiences and meaningful engagement with nature’s past, present and future. It achieves this through scientific research, a collection of 14.6 million specimens and artifacts, education programs, signature and travelling exhibitions, and a dynamic web site, nature.ca.

Information for media:
Dan Smythe
Head, Media Relations
Canadian Museum of Nature
613.698.9253 (cell)
1.800.263.4433
dsmythe@mus-nature.ca

John Swettenham
Chief Marketing Officer
Canadian Museum of Nature
613.868-8277 (cell)  
1.800.263.4433
jswettenhamnature.ca

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University education program still on hold for inmates across Canada

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As university and college students start school this month, inmates across the country will not have access to a program that offers university credits at no cost.

The Walls to Bridges program has been on hiatus at federal prisons and provincial jails since the start of the pandemic shutdown in March as a safety precaution. It’s not clear when it’ll start again, according to Shoshana Pollack, who founded the program in partnership with Grand Valley Institution for Women in Kitchener, Ont. in 2011.

The program has been taught in five federal institutions across Ontario, Alberta, Manitoba and British Columbia, as well as several provincial jails. It’s even been expanded to a jail in Paris, France.

The university or college working with the facility helps fund the course for the incarcerated students with the help of community organizations and charities, and then the other half of the class is made up of students from the school.

“We’re the only post-secondary program in Canada that brings people from outside to study with people on the inside,” said Pollack, who’s also a professor in the Department of Social Work at Wilfrid Laurier University.

The program is an accessible option for students because it doesn’t require an internet connection, which inmates don’t often have access to, said Pollack.

‘Felt like I was a human being’

Rachel Fayter, who was incarcerated at Grand Valley Institution from 2014 to 2017, says she’s concerned for the students who are missing out on the program because of the pandemic.

“For those folks that are locked up, Walls to Bridges might have been their only opportunity to have an education,” said Fayter.

“There’s not very much access to [post-secondary] education, there’s not internet access, the computers are ancient … any kind of mail correspondence you have to pay for the courses yourself. So it’s very difficult for somebody in prison and has no income.”

Fayter, who’s now a third year PhD student in the Department of Criminology at the University of Ottawa, says the program changed her life.

It didn’t happen after the first class, but the confidence it gave her changed her outlook. She became hopeful again.

“In the Walls to bridges classroom, it was the first time in probably a year where I actually felt like I was a human being and my voice and experiences were valuable and respected,” said Fayter.

The classes are taught through a learning circle. The idea is to allow all perspectives into the circle, learn from one another and discover how students’ experiences have shaped how they view the world.

‘Don’t know where I’d be’

Since 2011, there have been 559 inmates across the country who have taken courses through the program.

Rachel Fayter (left) and Shoshana Pollack (second from left) with two other alumni of the program. Fayter says the program changed her life. (Submitted by Shoshana Pollack)

Melissa Alexander is another graduate. She was studying computer systems technology at Seneca College in Toronto before she became an inmate at Grand Valley Institution. 

“When you’re inside, you feel like you have no rights,” said Alexander. “Even when you get out you feel like there’s nothing you can do because you have a permanent record.”

Alexander took four courses over three years through the social work department at Laurier. 

Inmates who complete courses then become part of a collective, helping advise the program going forward. She describes that community as pivotal in helping her forge a path for herself after her release in 2017.

“Without this group, I don’t know where I’d be today,” said Alexander, who now is a peer support worker in Toronto and a carpenter apprentice. She also plans to get her degree in social work with a minor in law.

‘It’s a necessity’

Peter Stuart, chief of education at Grand Valley Institution, says when women come into the prison, they’re often hungry to learn. They want to further their education, he says, and post-secondary education is critical.

“This idea that post-secondary education is a perk for offenders, I think is an outdated concept. I think it’s a necessity,” said Stuart.

“In our society, a high school diploma is obviously essential, but it’s not really enough anymore. Especially if you have a criminal record as an obstacle, you need to have not only the same as what other people have, but if anything something more,” said Stuart.

He says the prison looked at different models such as video conferencing to keep the program going through the pandemic, but Walls to Bridges relies on having students from the outside and inside together in one space without barriers.

“The model that Walls to Bridges uses just couldn’t work while COVID protocols were in effect,” said Stuart.

The women have been taking part in literature exchanges and correspondence while the program is on hold, according to Stuart. He hopes the program will start running again in the spring of 2021 at the prison. 

“As soon as we get the go ahead from public health and provincial and federal authorities, we’ll bring it back in immediately,” said Stuart.

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