Early learning educators meeting COVID challenges in SE Cornerstone

(Photo by Norm Park, SECPSD)

The early learning educators with Southeast Cornerstone School Division are continuing their efforts to reach families, in spite of the challenges posed by the closure of schools due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Early learning coordinator Jacquie Gibbs gave an update on their efforts to the Cornerstone board of trustees at their virtual board meeting on Wednesday, providing lots of statistical data to show the value of providing learning as early as possible in a child’s life.

According to provincial data, 28 per cent of babies born in the province are born into homes with some risk or high risk environments.

“There’s been a lot of research on the value of early learning, so it really is critical. It’s important we are supporting our families as they raise their children,” said Gibbs.

She noted the early years instructional team has continued their work online since school classes were suspended in March, with 375 items uploaded in 13 categories to assist parents.

“When COVID hit, in a flash our teachers needed to become online experts,” she said, noting in Cornerstone teachers are using the Microsoft Teams program to connect with students and families.

She showed videos of how teachers were able to connect, including one storytime with two young boys where they were able to read along with the story.

Early learning professionals like speech-language pathologists and teachers are able to make the connections and work with their families, and in some cases, the online technology enabled them to connect with families they had had trouble connecting with before.

Among the advantages of Teams is the ability to set up private channels, which is important with professionals when they hold counselling sessions with parents and their young children.

“The earlier we can intervene, the better. Sometimes we just don’t know about kids until they come to school,” said Gibbs. “Sometimes we have a tough time reaching those families who could use our support.”

Their goal in early learning is to connect with families earlier to support a positive transition to school, and one tool they use is the ages and stages questionnaire to determine if a child needs further assessment or support, “so parents know where their child is at and what their struggles are,” said Gibbs.

Southeast Cornerstone received grant funding for two additional seats in their prekindergarten programs, as part of the Early Learning Intensive Supports program for three and four-year-olds. This funding will provide an additional educational assistant in the class and addition professional supports, making possible a 1:6 adult to child ratio.

“We will have that in place for nex year, and look forward to increasing the spaces in the pre-K classrooms,” said Gibbs.

One of the ways the early learning educators reach out is by posting a literacy challenge online each week for children aged 0-6 years. An example provided was a story, “We’re going on a nature hunt”, which was a story about birds, trees and native grasses which provided an inspiration for taking a nature walk.

They gave a list of things the parents could look for with their children, and then to see what their child sees. They ask the parents to take a photo or video of the family doing the challenge, and send it in to Facebook page and enter a draw for weekly prizes, including the grand prize of an iPad. Originally the story circle program had one iPad available as a prize, and for the Facebook challenge a second iPad was added as a prize.

“During these events, the goal was to celebrate parents and the work they do. We also wanted to support the teachers,” said Gibbs.