On-site schooling is an integral part of the youth program at Portage’s rehabilitation centres across Canada. Because of the COVID-19 crisis, schools everywhere have been forced to close and Portage has made every effort to ensure its young residents can pursue their studies despite the closures.
COVID-19 and Schooling
The Coronavirus pandemic that hit Canada in early March 2020 has had a huge impact on how things work across the country. Faced with a rapidly increasing number of COVID-19 cases, federal and provincial governments promptly declared a public health emergency and instituted confinement measures for the population at large. One of the first measures to be implemented was the closure of all schools and universities because of their high contamination potential. As school boards suspended classes, quite understandably, thousands of youth were prevented from pursuing their high school study program. Portage youth in Québec, Ontario and the Atlantic provinces were among those affected by this extraordinary measure.
Drug rehabilitation programs for youth ages14 to 18 (21 in the Atlantic provinces) usually include two to three hours of schooling every day. Core subjects are taught in small groups to facilitate learning. Many youths take up their high school studies where they had left off and some even complete their high school program before leaving the residential centre. Portage firmly believes in the highly beneficial impact of schooling on youths’ self-esteem and sense of accomplishment.
The Portage Academy: Open for Learning
By early April, all Portage youth centres had implemented distance learning programs, each according to their own situation and means. At the Lac Écho centre in Prévost, Québec, three teachers from the Rivière-du-Nord school board for francophone students and four teachers from the Sir-Wilfrid-Laurier school board for anglophone students were assigned to oversee individual and group work. The teachers work on a rotating basis and connect with students through videoconferencing to answer their questions, meet them individually and provide help as needed. The head of the program states he ʺis very happy school has started again because many of our students have major academic difficulties either because they left school for a time or dropped out completely. Now, they have an opportunity to consolidate what they’ve learnedʺ.
Classes are conducted via Zoom and Microsoft Team, and while participants can interact to a certain extent, virtual schooling can’t take the place of actual classroom learning. Most of the young students are thrilled they can continue studying and preparing for their future. At Cassidy Lake, New-Brunswick, the girls’ community seems especially motivated by this new way of learning. Sarah, a young resident at the centre says she’s worked harder than ever before since the COVID-19 outbreak. ʺI’m more focused and I want to finish school before I complete my program hereʺ, she says. “I’ve never enjoyed school as much as I do nowʺ, adds Emily.
Thanks to the efforts of everyone involved, the school component of the Portage program for youth is now up and running again. From the Elora centre in Ontario to the Atlantic provinces, all of the young residents at Portage have access to distance learning. It’s a win-win situation for everyone, from the counsellors who applaud the resumption of classes, to the teachers who are happy to talk with their young students, to the students themselves, who can once again look forward to graduating at the end of the school year.