Coronavirus: Edmonton businesses opening alternative classrooms for kids

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WATCH ABOVE: A couple of Edmonton businesses believe they have solutions for parents concerned about Alberta's back-to-school plans amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. They're hoping they can cash in by keeping students safe and parents sane, offering learning outside the home. Sarah Ryan explains.

In light of the many concerns being raised by Alberta parents and teachers about the UCP government’s back-to-school plan during the COVID-19 pandemic, some Edmonton businesses are offering help with online learning.

Tim Gourlay, the owner of Fitset Ninja, recently launched Ninja Academy, a place where tutors will support students complete their own school’s online learning courses.

Students will also get to take daily ninja classes on the American Ninja Warrior-style obstacles and have open gym time as well.

“We’re offering a modified school experience for families who aren’t ready to send their kids back to school and can’t stay home with their kids all day, or just need some relief during the week,” Gourlay said.

That’s an opportunity Laura Koshman wasn’t going to pass up on. The idea of sending her kids back to a traditional classroom didn’t sit well with the mother of two.

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“I can’t sleep at night knowing that my kids are going back to school and being guinea pigs,” she said.

“I just have the worst gut feeling about sending them back with so many unknowns day to day.”

READ MORE: Alberta parents call province’s back-to-school plan unsafe, push for changes

Koshman registered both her nine- and seven-year-old daughters in the Ninja Academy right away.

“My other option was to look into hiring a nanny to stay at home with my kids and homeschool them, but I wasn’t finding anything successful with that,” she said.

“And the problem with that too is that my kids don’t get the social interaction and the exercise.”

Gourlay said Fitset will abide by all of Alberta’s health regulations and follow many of the guidelines set out by the Edmonton Public and Edmonton Catholic school boards — with one big difference.

“We have 30 kids in a 13,000-square-foot gym and 7,000-square-foot classroom area, so just a lot more room to distance,” Gourlay explained.

Normally, come September, Fitset Ninja would be booked up with field trips, but not this year, thanks to the novel coronavirus.

“We realized that our school business was going to go to zero and we had to figure out a way to provide value and optimize the usage of our space,” Gourlay said.

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Koshman’s oldest daughter has already been training at Fitset Ninja, and she’s confident in the staff and pleased that there will be multiple tutors on hand.

“I know they’re going to be cleaning and be on the kids to hand sanitize and wash their hands,” she said, “whereas in the school setting, as much as they would like that to happen, you’re expecting one teacher to do this for 30 kids — especially with everything else they have on their plate.”

Koshman was worried about the potential exposure her kids would face in a traditional school, and is relieved her girls will be working on their ninja skills come September.

“It’s just safer for them and gives me piece of mind,” she said.

Gourlay has a number of information sessions planned for interested families. Each is asked to sign up for a 10-week period.

“We filled up our first couple info sessions. We already have several families registered. We’re just over 40 per cent to capacity,” he said.

READ MORE: Alberta Grade 4-12 students, teachers will be required to wear masks in schools this fall

Another online learning option for students outside the home comes courtesy Discover Coding.

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“This might be for families looking to homeschool in the coming year,” explained founder Jennifer Lam.

“We are teaching the Alberta curriculum with 21st-century skills, using coding and technology to enhance the learning experience.”

Discover Coding would normally be working in dozens of schools, teaching students about coding, but the pandemic is making that impossible.

The company shifted and began offering online courses across Canada.

In addition, Lam is now launching DC Academy. It will have six to eight children in each tech-driven cohort.

“For example, in a science class we might do a science project, film it and then teach the kids video editing skills to create a YouTube video,” she said.

For Lam, health and safety are priorities as both she and her child are high-risk when it comes to the coronavirus because of respiratory conditions.

“We created this program for our family and we want to find other families who have similar values as us,” she said.

Lam said the DA Academy hopes parents will sign their children up for a full year of learning.

Discover Coding is hosting information sessions online.

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