WE Schools @ Home complements curriculum and helps parents,teachers, and kids connect and stay socially engaged
By Crystal Murray
Open almost any publication or news site and you’ll see the physical impacts of COVID-19 quantified into understandable units. Infection rates, cases resolved and death toll. The numbers and the evidence are updated hourly but other aspects of the pandemic aren’t as easy to plot on a graph or pop into a spread sheet. We’re learning that just as quickly as the pandemic overturned our typical daily routines, the impacts on mental health were as immediate, troubling and hard to contain.
While no one is immune to mental illness, there is increasing attention on supports for young people. Most mental health advocacy for youth is concentrated in the education system. However, when schools responded to the call for physical distancing to help slow down the spread of the virus and students went home, an important mechanism for mental health awareness and support was compromised.
Acknowledging the tremendous amount of stress that young people, educators, and parents are experiencing as a result of the pandemic, WE Schools (an educational partner active in 7,000+ schools across Canada) launched an at-home learning platform on the website we.org.
Last fall, 10,000+ students from schools all over Atlantic Canada celebrated their year of action at WE Day Atlantic, sharing stories about their projects and good deeds that transform their communities and change the lives of people in schools but around the world. Many Nova Scotian families are tuned in to the high energy star-studded productions that happen in cities throughout North America every school year, that celebrate “doing good” but may not be as familiar with the WE School program that has taken a quick pivot to learning at home and its relation to well-being.
“The program launched in early April provides curricular resources around social emotional learning,” says WE co-founder Craig Kielburger. There is a strong emphasis on well-being and resiliency that are so important right now where Covid-19 has upended the educational system. “WE Schools @ Home was in response to so many school districts, principals, teachers, but especially parents who are now stepping into the role of the teacher,” says Kielburger during an interview from his home in Ontario.
The fundamentals of the free program are delivered by email every Monday to Friday. They’re turn-key resources for parents, teachers, and students. School districts throughout Canada have been helping share the information since the pivot to learning from home.
Dayna Crathorne, a Grade 9 teacher at Millwood High School in Middle Sackville says she is grateful for the resources. She uses the curriculum enhancements in her classroom through the year. She believes the continually updated program gives her students more time to think critically about world events and issues.
“WE Schools opens the door to explore and create a more global view for my students,” says Crathorne, from her new makeshift classroom office in her basement of her home in Bedford. The resources are also great to work alongside the new service-learning component that has been brought into the curriculum for Grade 9 students in Nova Scotia. You see the value of this program come front and centre.”
Earlier in the year, her students created projects to support the Sackville Warming Centre and gave a welcomed refresh to the female washrooms in the school.
As much as Crathorne says she values the engagement and empowerment that comes from service learning, she is also confident that the new program focus on well-being now that students are in a home learning environment will have a very positive impact.
“I like to bring social emotional learning into almost everything I do when I teach my students,” adds Crathorne. “I am a real person and I want my students to know this. I want them to understand that we all have struggles and we all can talk about it. I have anxiety and I am very open to discuss this with my students. I am now using the discussion cards provided by WE Schools to create other ways to connect on these subjects.”
Crathorne, who has been teaching for seven years has also shared with her students that her grandmother who is in a home for special care tested positive for Covid-19. “My students are very caring and want to know how my grandmother is doing,” she says.
“This is very real for so many people. I wanted to be as honest about it as possible and I posted a video to share with them to let them know how I am feeling.”
WE Schools complements the core curriculum. “What we are doing is tackling the social emotional side of learning,” says Kielburger. “The program and the content that we have developed with the help of many incredible mental health experts and educators is something that young people can access every day and apply to their own life to help manage the challenges of this unique time.”
Kielburger emphasizes that all resources are free, including a new edition WE Wellbeing digital playbook to help students cope with social isolation and tips for keeping up with school while dealing with the anxiety and fear.
“We are also getting ready for when teachers and students go back to school,” adds Kielburger. “There is a trauma informed curricular program that will help support people who have been through a very difficult time. We know that some people more than others may have experienced the reality of family members facing economic challenges, the loss of loved ones or increased levels of domestic violence.”
While the organization depends largely on the local school boards to actively communicate to parents, Kielburger adds that they also have champions like Senator Stanley Kutcher an expert in youth mental health and resiliency participating in their WE Schools Live programming on Facebook. Celebrated Canadians like Olympians Tessa Virtue and Silken Laumann sharing their self-care tips on the Wellbeing podcast followed by psychologists who talk about what they just heard and how ordinary people can tie the ideas into their own lives.
“The truth is I believe that what is currently a physical health crisis is becoming a mental health crisis for young people,” says Keilburger. “It’s critical that we provide these proactive and prevention focused resources to support young people at the time.”
Bring WE Schools @ Home to your family
See we.org for free resources.
WE Schools Live
A daily online program to educate, engage and inspire with educators and experts for one hour. Busy parents can feel confident that their children during this hour are receiving positive, educational content. WE Schools Live streams daily on Facebook at 2–3 p.m. ADT.
- Mindful Mondays: Learn how to nurture your well-being and the well-being of others, including through self-care practices that build resiliency.
- Teacher Tuesdays: Engage with a teacher selected for their incredible pedagogy and charismatic teaching style to captive students.
- Wellness Wednesdays: Learn how you can take care of your own physical health during a time of limited mobility.
- Take Action Thursdays: Service learning comes alive, with action plans to tackle local and global issues even when physically distancing.
- Feature Fridays: Join an interactive episode where WE Schools Live dives into a timely and trending topic in the service-learning space.Daily virtual lessons featuring a certified teacher
Virtual lessons that students can tune into daily by grade level, led by a certified teacher. Each virtual lesson will come along with additional resources to support parents in homeschooling in an easy and digestible way.Social and emotional learning tool kit
An online tool kit that includes daily activities to do at home to support well-being and foster empathy, compassion and resiliency.
Teacher support and resources
Interactive and experiential daily virtual lessons
Virtual classroom lessons for students (P–12) that cover myriad timely topics, including staying in the know for COVID-19, using technology to do social good, and building well-being skills through social and emotional learning. Teachers will also have access to lesson plans and activities designed exclusively to help enhance core curriculum.
WE Teachers Hub
Access to an archive of free online resources designed to provide teachers with resources to support students. The WE Teachers Hub has everything from ready-made lesson plans to professional learning courses that educators can access along with exclusive, virtual learning experiences and a community of teachers around the world. The platform equips educators with tools to address critical social issues with students, starting with trauma-informed resources and professional learning. Click here to access the WE Teachers Hub.
Pandemic—Informed Community Resource: COVID-19
This resource will assist teachers to address pandemic-related trauma. Educators gain a deeper understanding of the topic, relevant context, and explore the pedagogical benefits of trauma-informed teaching.
Weekly webinars every Thursday at 4–5 p.m. ADT to support and build community among teachers in their shift to creating virtual classrooms. Topics will include classroom management in a virtual world, virtual lessons for students, Q&A with subject-matter experts in well-being to support students’ social and emotional learning and share best practices for learning at home.