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Above: Members of the Safe and Inclusive Schools team (clockwise from upper left) Michelle Hodges, Julie Seldon, Tanya Haist, Christine Bibby, Traydese Roth, and Laura Hill participate in a meeting.

Grand Erie’s Safe and Inclusive Schools Team Shifted to Online Space to Support Staff, Students During COVID-19 School Closures

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought profound changes to our routines, relationships, and the way we work and learn. In addition to finding new methods to deliver lessons, the province-wide school closures have challenged Grand Erie staff to also find innovative ways to replicate the supportive classroom structures that allow students to achieve and thrive. Supporting teachers, students, and families during this time has been the responsibility of the Safe and Inclusive Schools team, which also pivoted quickly to change the way it works in order to meet this new reality.

“Due to the changing landscape and uncertainty, we wanted to provide resources that would help staff feel grounded in their profession and validate common experiences,” says Christine Bibby, Safe and Inclusive Schools Lead. “We also knew we needed to support students and families in coping with the changes brought on by COVID-19, recognizing that education was now being provided in the context of crisis.”

The team works to ensure students are safe – and feel safe – within the school environment, an essential element in reaching one’s full potential. With the school setting now online, Safe Schools shifted to that space as well, launching weekly webinars and corresponding resources on a variety of timely topics for staff, and compiling information to support the well-being of Grand Erie families. They also collaborated with other Grand Erie departments and staff leads, organizations such as the North American Centre for Threat Assessment and Trauma Response, and community agencies at the outset to anticipate the varied needs of staff, students, and parents during this unprecedented time. The results include documents such as Talking to Children About COVID-19, developed in concert with Grand Erie’s Mental Health and Well-Being Lead, as well as a special webinar for parents and caregivers on the topic of dealing with uncertainty, among other resources.

Grand Erie’s Multi-Year Plan includes Well-Being as part of the foundation for realizing the goal of Success for Every Student, and the pandemic didn’t change that indicator’s aim of creating environments that are healthy and recognize the well-being of mind, body, emotion and spirit of students and staff.

As the end of the school year approaches, the Safe Schools team offers advice that keeps well-being at the centre.

“It’s important for all of us to recognize and acknowledge the fact that we have made it through this challenging year,” says Bibby. “Think about ways you will remember this year, and what you learned through this experience. We are often more resilient than we give ourselves credit for.”

That resilience extends to the Safe Schools team too, as it took on new challenges.

“The launch of the webinars was a learning curve for all of us, but not without lots of laughs,” says Bibby of the team’s shift to the online space. “We wanted to model for others that we were all on this journey together, and that we need to give ourselves permission to not be perfect; instead, we need to be compassionate toward ourselves in the same ways that we are with our students.”

Photo by Grand Erie Communications

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