A normal morning would have Katy and Rob Mattatall of Dartmouth scrambling to get their three elementary school children to waiting classrooms.
The week of online learning prescribed by the Education Department has left the family grappling with a different problem and sorting out mixed feelings about the efficacy of the government decision.
“It’s a little challenging,” Katy Mattatall, a nurse who works weekdays in a clinic, said of the decision to go with online schooling this week and then move back to classroom instruction next week.
“I am kind of on both sides of it,” Mattatall said. “I like that they are doing it because they (kids) can’t really socialize with anybody, they are stuck at home, whether it’s watching TV or video games or whatever, so it’s kind of nice that they do have some structure during the day.”
The Mattatall clan consists of Kayleigh, 11, and in Grade 6; nine-year-old Duncan in Grade 4; and Alexander, a five-year-old Grade Primary student. All three attend Crichton Park Elementary when it’s open.
“It’s extremely challenging and I feel guilty because there is nothing I can do, I have to go to work,” Mattatall said of the online learning week. “That leaves it to my husband, who is trying to do this with three kids at three different learning stages and levels of work and also trying to work from home, running a business. I am on both sides of this.”
Rob Mattatall owns Mattatall Signs in Burnside Park and runs the Dartmouth business with his brother-in-law.
“The teachers have done a really great job of organizing everything,” Mattatall said.
Mattatall said her daughter is “pretty self-sufficient and independent” but her Grade 4 son needs some help with online learning and she worries that he’s absorbed “the brunt” of the prolonged pandemic.
“Most of his school, the key learning for him, has been during this pandemic,” she said. “It started when he was in Grade 2 and he missed the three or four months when they didn’t have school, the key math in Grade 2, and then they started Grade 3 and they were expected to know the Grade 2 stuff but he didn’t learn it. They jumped right into the Grade 3 stuff and he lost some of his Grade 3 when they were out again.”
“Two years of this and it’s hard to imagine that this is all our five-year-old knows. Anywhere you go, you have to have a mask on. It’s second nature to them now but for everybody, it’s getting old.”
– Katy Mattatall
Mattatall said it’s really important for her nine-year-old son to have learning continue, even on an online basis.
“My youngest is in Grade Primary and he’s learning the basics.”
Mattatall said she is impressed with what the teachers have done, even for Grade Primary, during the return to online learning.
Mattatall said her husband is not yet running down the street flailing his arms in despair, “but it’s a full-time job to keep all three learning and then he spends his evenings trying to get caught up on his real job.”
Mattatall said the one week of post-Christmas online learning was the right thing for the department to do, allowing time to put the extra layers of protection together before kids return to the classroom on Monday.
“My kids’ school is one of the schools that doesn’t have the up-to-date HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) system and it gives them time to get the rapid tests and the appropriate masks for the kids, because not all families can afford the three-layer masks,” she said.
Students in our public schools will move to at-home learning for one week beginning Monday, January 10.
Schools are the best place for our kids, but this extra week will ensure schools are as safe as possible. pic.twitter.com/wKO3vV3Bjg
— Tim Houston (@TimHoustonNS) January 5, 2022
Education Minister Becky Druhan said last week that “the best place for students is in school,” and the single week of online learning is “really very much about balance.”
The minister said the pandemic is unpredictable and things can change rapidly but the department is committed to the return-to-class plan for Monday.
Druhan said 71 of the province’s 370 public schools that experience insufficient or no air circulation would be equipped during the extra week with portable air purification units for each classroom and common areas at a cost of $2.3 million. Mattatall said Crichton Park is one of the schools that require the portable air exchange machines.
The minister also said a new shipment of three-ply masks will be available for the province’s more than 100,000 public school students and for school staff when schools reopen.
“I think they did the right thing but I really hope they go back on Monday because they will be in a better position then with all of the extra things that they’ve had time this week to do,” Mattatall said.
Mattatall said for the entire five weeks that schools were shut down last spring, from the end of April to the first of June, their three children camped out with their retired grandparents, A.J. and Moira Campbell, in Mabou, Cape Breton.
“They went with my parents, which was incredible for the kids for their online school because they (grandparents) didn’t have another job that they were trying to do and there was two of them,” she said.
“Our youngest at that point was only in pre-Primary but the other kids really had my parents’ full attention.”
Mattatall’s aunt, a retired teacher and principal, dropped in regularly to help out.
“It was rough on them (children) and it was rough on us, it’s a long time to be apart,” Mattatall said.
Still, she appreciates that her family was fortunate to have that option and that the grandparents were amenable to taking on the role of online-learning facilitators, a situation that many other families did not enjoy.
This time around, Mattatall is hopeful that Monday’s return to school comes off as planned but she said pandemic fatigue is taking a toll on everyone.
“Two years of this and it’s hard to imagine that this is all our five-year-old knows,” she said. “Anywhere you go, you have to have a mask on. It’s second nature to them now but for everybody, it’s getting old. We keep hoping that this is going to be the last wave.”