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Rotational worker family shares challenges balancing isolation and education

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Rotational worker family shares challenges balancing isolation and education
The partner of a rotational worker is hoping New Brunswick will implement blended learning for elementary school, similar to high school. As Callum Smith reports, being in the situation leaves the family with tough choices and a hit to education – Apr 16, 2021

The family of a New Brunswick rotational worker is sharing the challenges they face having two sons in elementary school while following isolation provincial isolation requirements.

Unlike high schools in the province, elementary schools do not offer online learning, meaning if students are not in the physical classroom, they’re missing school.

Every time Mike Boucher, a diamond driller working in B.C., returns to his Sackville, N.B.-area home, the family has to isolate.

“It’s not always easy,” says Heather Pottie, Boucher’s partner.

Mike Boucher is a diamond driller working in B.C. When he returns home, his family has to isolate, as he has not received his first COVID-19 vaccine yet. Courtesy: Heather Pottie

Boucher was supposed to get vaccinated recently, but his appointment was cancelled because he’s under 55 and was expected to get the AstraZeneca shot.

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New Brunswick announced new rules for rotational workers March 26, allowing them to not isolate if they’ve received their first COVID-19 vaccine at least two weeks prior to entering the province. Rotational workers would, however, have to take two COVID-19 tests on days 5 and 10 of their return home.

While Pottie is hoping to get Boucher booked for a new vaccine appointment soon, in the meantime, it’s been hard on the family.

Read more: Doctor’s orders — Vaccinated rotational workers will still have to quarantine in Nova Scotia

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“You’re a single mom while your partner is gone,” she says.

But aside from challenges such as getting groceries or running errands, they face a dilemma with what to do with their two sons, who are in kindergarten and Grade 1.

The kids could either stay with family or miss class, Pottie says. But her parents have compromised immune systems, so the children are forced to miss out on school during isolation periods.

“They will (have missed) over a month of class with our upcoming isolation,” she says. “It definitely feels like more.”

“I spend a few hours every week lesson planning and learning how and what to teach them,” Pottie says. “I never intended to do home-schooling.”

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Pottie knows her sons’ teachers at Salem Elementary School are “already maxed to their capabilities in the classrooms to be able to prepare us any kind of packages.”

But trying to help her kids through the school year is still very difficult.

“It’s been really challenging with their emotional state because of lack of… friends, really,” she says. “And it’s hard to get them motivated to do the schooling without the accountability of the teacher-student relationship.”

But in the bigger picture, she’s hoping more flexible learning options, such as online education, can be offered in the province soon.

“It seems like they should make that available to anyone who can’t attend class,” she says, “and not separate rotational workers from other groups.”

Read more: Concerns raised over short time frame for rotational workers to vote in N.L. election

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Global News asked New Brunswick’s Department of Education and Early Childhood Development (EECD) why blended learning hasn’t been implemented for elementary schools and if it would be considered in the future.

In an emailed statement, a spokesperson didn’t directly answer the questions, but put emphasis on the desire for students to be in the classroom.

“We know how important school is to support the mental and physical well-being of students,” writes communications officer Flavio Nienow. “Schools are more than just places to learn.”

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Nienow says the return-to-school plan and education directives have been developed with Public Health and school districts.

“Our goal was always to ensure in-person learning to the greatest extent possible and using age-appropriate learning models,” the statement says. “As such, students from kindergarten to Grade 8 have continued to attend school full-time with additional health and safety protocols based on their age.”

“Throughout the 2020-21 school year, school operational plans have been continuously updated to reflect best practices and the most up-to-date information available.”

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