“It felt surreal when the government announced that we would be closing for two weeks following the March Break,” says MindWare Academy owner Shelley Holloway.
“I thought that we would give it time and then be back, ready to finish our year. Had we known what was about to unfold, I would have had kids take their snow pants home, at the very least!” That said, it didn’t take MindWare Academy long to realize that they were going to have to move into a whole new way of teaching and learning, and give a whole new meaning to ‘go with the flow.’
In many ways, MindWare Academy isn’t a typical school. It is a small school that specializes in teaching children with learning disabilities. It is also a trauma-informed school, where relationships are at the centre of everything they do. These elements needed to be paramount to whatever the next steps would be. Staff spent March Break reimagining how they could teach, while ensuring those connections were there. Two weeks later, they were up and running with a model that has, for the most part, checked off all the boxes. It might not be the same as in-person learning, but it is better than what they could have dreamt of, given the fact that they knew very little about online learning and teaching.
Each morning, students log in through Zoom. They attend the core subjects in the morning, with the exception being the primary class. They meet 1:1 with their teacher and then as a group a couple of times a week, meeting their developmental needs given their age. Often, as part of class, students and teachers play games like Hangman or Pictionary. It is chance to have fun and laugh with peers.
It is the value-added classes, or electives however, that have really made the difference. Each Monday afternoon, students have the option to log in for an art class. On Thursdays, they have a mindfulness class. Fridays feature Chat Time – a chance to hang out and chat with friends. Other activities include a weekly scavenger hunt, a nature activity, and a daily connection activity. Educational assistants are available to offer remediation, including Orton Gillingham and to help with classroom support. There are also check in times where teachers meet individually with students. Sometimes it is to offer homework support, but quite often, it is to just talk about how they are feeling and how to cope with so many uncertainties. These are the times that mean the most to many of the students and teachers. It brings back those relationships.
MindWare Academy has found this model to be so successful that they are offering an online summer camp. The morning will be divided up, with students enjoying art, mindfulness, language arts and STEAM. The afternoons offer fun electives for a small add-on fee. These electives include drama, group games, writing and building, and movement. The response so far has been wonderful, speaking to the great need for camps that still deliver fun and keep kids busy during the summer.
What will September look like? “It is hard to say,” says Holloway. “No matter what though, we will be prepared. We are already planning for three scenarios – in person if it is safe, online if we are directed to do so, or a hybrid of the two. So far, parents are very interested in a hybrid model. It might give us the best of both worlds. It is all about safety and making sure the curriculum is taught, while making our kids feel that we are still there for them.”
To learn more about MindWare’s programs, visit their website at www.mindware.ca or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.