COVID-19 continues to pose challenges to providing educational programs and services to the students in your First Nations schools. Travel restrictions imposed by the Province of Manitoba and the safety measures put in place by First Nations to protect your citizens have prevented our staff from travelling to First Nations to offer in-school second-level services. The pandemic has forced suspension of staff travel and also school closures, which has affected regular communication practices. MFNERC continues to report to the Board of Directors and convenes monthly meetings with First Nations Education Directors and Principals to provide updates, address issues and challenges faced by First Nations, network and collaborate, and discuss ways MFNERC can assist.
MFNERC second-level services continued to support First Nations during the pandemic by immediately changing to remote virtual services. At the onset of the pandemic, MFNERC redirected all staff to develop a remote learning hub and prepare essential learning packages (ELP). ELPs were sent to Kindergarten to Grade 12 teachers to enable students to learn away from school with the help of parents. MFNERC staff continued to reach out to First Nation schools to solicit feedback on the ELPs and other essential services and supports that were required in IT, infrastructure, and clinical services. Some essential services and supports that cannot be provided remotely are being provided on-site, based on requests and approval by First Nations leadership following the provincial and the First Nation’s COVID-19 guidelines.
The pandemic accelerated the development of a digital learning environment (DLE) that allowed MFNERC staff to communicate and offer training to school staff remotely and school staff to access training webinars, conferences, and other supports by signing into the system. Wapaskwa Virtual Collegiate staff have supported schools and trained more than one hundred teachers to use the BrightSpace learning management system. MFNERC also conducted four large virtual conferences during the pandemic: (2) Inclusive Education, (1) Land-Based and (1) Physical Education. MFNERC is currently planning the annual Lighting the Fire Conference, which will be offered remotely under the DLE platform in May 2021.
This time during the pandemic has allowed MFNERC to establish the system and train staff to work remotely using this technology. The DLE provides future opportunities for MFNERC and First Nations school staff to continue communicating, planning, and working collaboratively to develop classroom and resource materials and other projects identified by First Nations.
MFNERC is working with a Low Earth Orbit satellite company to provide improved internet access for First Nations with little or no connectivity. MFNERC will continue to assist and support longer-term solutions.
COVID-19 has impacted MFNERC work plan activities and budgets. Travel restrictions and the limitations on gatherings have resulted in the discontinuation of some budgeted activities and alteration of service delivery methods, which have resulted in savings. A portion of these savings was transferred back to First Nations schools to purchase materials, equipment, and other resources they required for their languages and cultural programming.
MFNERC staff continue to be available to assist First Nation schools through remote service delivery. While staff are anxious to get back to regular services, plans to resume on-site second-level services will respect provincial guidelines and the measures put in place by First Nations to ensure their students, school staff, and citizens’ safety, along with the safety of MFNERC staff. MFNERC is encouraging staff to get vaccinated as the vaccination timeline allows. Under the Code Red restrictions, MFNERC staff have been unable to travel to provide service for the safety of schools, the children, and MFNERC staff. Should the provincial health Code Red guidelines change to Code Orange, MFNERC staff will be ready to return to community support as soon as First Nations deem it safe to do so.
MFNERC is offering information sessions to First Nations and First Nation organizations on MFNERC second-level services and the MFNSS onboarding strategy. Please contact Sheleen Daniels at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule an information session.
– Charles Cochrane
Executive Director, Manitoba First Nations Education Resource Centre Inc.