Pandemic fallout: Board staff work to bring hundreds of students back into fold

The Thames Valley District school board is still trying to bring back some of the hundreds of kids who fell off attendance rolls amid the COVID-19 pandemic, an official says.

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Thames Valley District school board is still trying to bring back some of the hundreds of kids who fell off attendance rolls amid the COVID-19 pandemic, an official says.

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As of April, social workers and school counselors had reached out to more than 700 students, particularly kindergartners and kids in Indigenous and Low German-speaking communities, with the help of $ 770,000 in Education Ministry funding, said Tracy Langelaan, a board superintendent.

“Their singular focus has been on re-engaging elementary and secondary students who had been demitted as a result of ongoing absenteeism,” she said.

Their efforts resulted in 50 per cent of those students reconnecting with their studies, Langelaan said. Another 25 per cent had moved to another school board. Most of the rest opted for home schooling.

“A very small percentage of our students who are over the age of 18. . . have chosen not to return to the classroom, but those options remain available, ”Langelaan said. “Our team will continue to reach out to those students to ensure they know that completing their high school education is always a door open for them.”

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During the 2020-21 school year, Ontario students spent at least 27 weeks learning online amid efforts to curb rising COVID-19 case counts. There have been ongoing interruptions this school year as classes or schools shifted online due to COVID outbreaks.

Amid these disruptions, some students just disappeared from the education system.

In June 2021 the province provided money to support learning recovery, “specific to the reengagement of students. . . disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, ”Langelaan said.

“Thames Valley used this money to address learning disruption for students facing barriers to success,” she said. “We really focused on augmenting our existing supports, with strategies to support learning recovery, students who had delayed enrollment during the pandemic and to really support our families with the newest learners to kindergarten.”

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They also sought “to connect with families that may have left our school system” through home visits, Low-German Mennonite podcasts and house registration events in Low German and Indigenous communities, she said.

It was hard to pinpoint groups whose learning was the hardest hit by pandemic, Langelaan said. “It varied by family circumstances, the health of the family and their comfort level.

“So many factors went into the family’s ability to connect with the learning environment,” she said. “We’re so grateful to have these funds to address the system from a holistic approach.”

The funding also went to early literacy supports, re-engagement for virtual learners and parent support.

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