Seven-year-old Lucy Dalglish working on her “Mo Willems Lunch Doodles” as she and her family wait for the Surrey school district to roll out its remote learning plan for students. (Submitted photo: Cindy Dalglish)


Surrey parents, students navigate remote learning during COVID-19

The Surrey school district teachers are slowly rolling out plans for new way of educating

As the Surrey school district winds up its first week of the suspensionof in-class instruction, it’s the “uncertainty of it all” that is causing concern for some parents and students.

“Mostly it’s the uncertainty of it all, right? We don’t know what the expectations are as of yet. We don’t know how our children will adjust to doing the learning at home. We don’t know what materials we need. We don’t know if it’s all going to be specific to online, will we be taking packages in? It’s just all the unknowns,” said Cindy Dalglish, whose children are aged seven and 12.

“The 12-year-old gets it. She knows what’s happening, but the seven-year-old’s just like, ‘Woohoo, extra playtime.’ So getting her to focus a little bit will be the struggle.”

But looking to next week, Dalglish said she thinks it’s going to be “more structured.”

“I think that the teachers are working really hard to kind of come up with a game plan on how to best meet the needs of their students, knowing that everyone is different and their ability to have technology in the house,” she said.

“I think the uncertainty this week will start to come down next week, and I think by the end of next week, everyone will have a level of comfort around it. I feel for teachers scrambling, trying to do their best that they can being remote.”

The hope, Dalglish said, is that the “expectations are low” as this remote learning is rolled out.

Not for the fact that teachers are doing this but because our students are kind of in a mental space where they may not have the capacity to do all the learning they would normally do,” she said. “We don’t want to overwhelm our kids and make it frustrating and harder on the household… That’s why I like the words ‘continuity of learning.’ It’s not saying you have to meet this threshold and this threshold, it means we just want you to keep engaged and keep learning, whatever that looks like, knowing that every kid is different.”

And for some parents and their children, that “continuity of learning” will look very different.

Nicole Kaler is in a “wait-and-see situation.” Her daughter, 19-year-old Maya, is in her last year of high school. Maya is non-verbal and on the autism spectrum.


Maya Kaler, a Grade 12 student in Surrey, is non-verbal and on the autism spectrum. She and her family are waiting to hear back about a plan for Maya as the district rolls out its remote-learning plan. (Submitted photo: Nicole Kaler).

“She has an intellectual disability,” Kaler said. “She requires a lot of care, so we’ve got an eye on her at all times. So the support she gets at school isn’t just education. It’s also all of her self care and safety and all of those things.”

Kaler said she knows in Surrey that the plan for the first week after spring break would be for teachers to start communicating with their students. But she said there is a concern for families with children with disabilities.

“So that’s where we are. I mean, it’s still the first week so I think it’s a little bit early to sound the alarm bell, but it is definitely at the point where I know I am personally reaching out… just to remind people that we’re here because we need special consideration. We’re a vulnerable population, so it’s got to be quick, it’s got to be fast for our families.”

As for how she and her family have been handling the past couple of weeks, Kaler said Maya’s “world is very small.”

“Everybody’s world is small, but I’m feeling like her world is much smaller than ours. We’re getting out, we’re going for walks, but that’s about all we can do,” Kaler explained. “She’s antsy and there’s no way to explain to her, so I think I’m going through a lot of what people with very young children are probably feeling.”

Maya, Kaler said, doesn’t understand why she’s not able to go to school.

“Her school programming was completely modified and supported by her education assistant,” she said. “Because of Maya’s disability, she’s not going to graduate. I think she tests at a preschool level.. She’s always learning and it is a place of learning for her, but not at a level that would facilitate her graduation.

“So we don’t have those worries that I think a lot of the Grade 12s are having and I’d say when you’re looking forward to your graduation, that is a really big hit.”

READ ALSO: ‘You’ll have lots of questions’: Surrey superintendent’s message to Grade 12s, March 25, 2020

And for Grade 12 students, these last few months of school are critical.

Rajinder Kalsi is a Grade 12 student at L.A. Matheson., and she said her biggest concern is how she’s going to transition from high school to university.


Grade 12 L.A. Matheson Rajinder Kalsi playing basketball. Rajinder was looking forward to spring sports before K-12 in-class instruction was suspended March 17. Now she’s concerned about graduation. (Submitted photo: Rajinder Kalsi)

This semester, she’s taking Punjabi, Philosophy 12 and English 12, which is needed to graduate.

“Doing everything online definitely changes the way they’re going to be teaching as well,” she said. “I think for all of my classes, actually, it’s more of how much you participate. They don’t really look at what you’re writing down on a piece of paper, they’re looking at whether or not… you understand what we’re learning.”

School was also where Rajinder got all of her work done, she said.

“I know for a lot of people, like myself included, we get most of our work done in school, just so we don’t have anything to do at home. The reason why I do that is because I can’t really do my work at home.”

Asked if she has a quiet place at home to work, Rajinder said, “not really.”

But it’s not just academics that Rajinder and her classmates will be missing out on.

“When we found out we weren’t having a grad, we feel like a milestone is being missed… We can’t celebrate something we’ve worked so hard for and spent most of our lives for,” she said. “It’s just unfortunate because we know we can’t do much about it because of what’s happening in the world right now. We won’t be able to celebrate the way that our older siblings have, or the people in Grade 11 right now. We’re not going to be able to celebrate like they’re going to celebrate.”

She said that “in a perfect world,” the social-distancing orders would be over by June and they would still be able to have their grad celebrations.

“But now, looking at the reports of everything of COVID-19, that seems highly unlikely,” she said. “We’re upset, but we can’t do anything about it, so we’re more disappointed if that makes sense.”

And unfortunately, students at L.A. Matheson didn’t really get a last day together before spring break.

“We thought that it would go on for a month and then everything would be OK. We actually had a feeling something like this was going to happen, but we were going to discuss it at our last day,” said Rajinder, but that didn’t happen “because of the situation that happened at out school.”

READ ALSO: Staff member attacked at Surrey school, suspect arrested, March 13, 2020

A 19-year-old man was arrested in connection with a “serious assault” on a staff member at L.A. Matheson Secondary Friday, March 13 – the last day of school before spring break. Classes at the school were cancelled for the rest of the day after the morning incident.

Going forward though, Rajinder said it’s going to be a “tough adjustment” for both students and teachers.

“I think it’s going to be just as hard for us as it’s going to be for the teachers. I think that it really just depends on what the teachers want to teach at this point because there’s no way that we’re going to be able to finish everything we’re supposed to be learning.”

But for Dalglish, she said there are lots of different ways to learn.

“If you look at homeschoolers, they’re saying it’s about an hour a day of instructional time… there’s learning weaved into things, like, ‘OK, we’re going to get up and we’re going to make some muffins.’ Well, you can do math in that. You can do science and physics. Like there’s lots of different ways to learn, but I think most parents kind of go back to that, ‘Oh, you sit down and you do work,’” Dalglish said.

“That’s not how it works anymore. There’s learning in everything we do and we don’t have to call it out as learning for everything. I think it’s going to be more of a mental shift for the adults than it is for the students.”

READ ALSO: ‘Having to re-invent the way they do their work’: What learning could look like in Surrey amid COVID-19, March 28, 2020

READ ALSO: ‘Vast majority’ of Surrey Schools staff will be working from home, superintendent says, March 25, 2020

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