Spring break; a chance to relax, have fun, spend time with friends and family. But this year, while many were beginning to enjoy spring break, the COVID-19 pandemic was evolving rapidly. This left employers, families and organizations scrambling.
Our Archway Language Instruction for Newcomers (LINC) program operates following the Abbotsford School District calendar, and LINC teachers were monitoring the COVID-19 situation during their two weeks off while wondering what it would mean for their classes.
Not wanting to leave their students without support during such a challenging time, teachers like Jas and Sara and Teaching Assistants like Bev quickly adapted from in-person learning to taking their classrooms online for the first time.
“The smooth transition from face-to-face to online was only made possible due to an incredibly supportive LINC management team and a truly remarkable group of students. My students’ commitment to learning and building a vibrant and supportive online community far exceeded my expectations,” reported Sara, a LINC teacher. Their students were delighted at the chance to keep studying; despite everything, their desire to learn was so strong.
“I was worried at the beginning but it was a very good experience! Participating in the breakout rooms was fun, comfortable, and helpful for my English.” (Amy, Korea)
LINC students aged 17 – 80+ come from around the world, and even without the stress of a global pandemic many encounter obstacles when trying to get to weekly classes. In the current situation, those are compounded by looking after children at home and sometimes overcoming lower levels of digital literacy in addition to English literacy.
“It was a motivating experience for several reasons. The energy of the teacher was infectious. It enabled us to practice our speaking with enthusiasm and confidence. This helped us in a practical way to adapt to a new and positive learning experience during challenging times.” (Maria, Brazil)
What really amazed program manager Paula was the heightened sense of community within LINC learners. Students supported each other through challenges like job loss and parenting issues while teachers sourced digital devices and arranged the delivery of educational packages for those without access to technology. Teachers also organized Kahoots learning games for further English practice and studying for citizenship. Some students even used the game with their families for fun.
Referrals were made to other Archway programs, like the Food Bank. Childcare workers supported parents in their pivot to remote learning and sent preschoolers packages with materials to help with their transition to kindergarten this fall.
“They gave us a sense of community during the pandemic! I also found it exciting to learn in a new way. I am proud of the new digital skills I have gained.” (Assia, Morocco)
With the now-online courses, the nature of the learning evolved too. The focus in LINC is typically on “settlement language” which covers the types of conversations and scenarios newcomers may find themselves in during daily life. Suddenly there was “pandemic language” too. What is the CERB? Are jobs stable? What is physical distancing?
Martha, who completed the LINC program in February, even reported a new job opportunity that came out of the COVID situation. She had joined LINC to boost her confidence and settlement knowledge and pursue a career. Now, she’s become the COVID-19 Community Builder for United Way Lower Mainland, maintaining online engagement for vulnerable groups.
“The class gave me confidence to read current events and fiction in English; classmates and the classroom community gave me incredible confidence. Learning about Canada and the language have been key for me!” Martha recently shared with Paula. As an overseas qualified RN, she has also secured a spot in the Return to Registered Nursing Program at Thompson Rivers University.
That classroom community is vital, and the LINC program has done an incredible job of replicating it online. While not all students have been able to transition to remote and virtual learning, more than 70% have. “Students miss the face to face but are grateful to continue learning,” shared LINC teacher Jas. “For many, this is the highlight of their week.”
On her first day of virtual instruction Jas had just four pupils join her, but word spread quickly. The next day there were eight, and soon 12. Before she knew it, she was dividing them into two groups so she could sufficiently focus her attention on each one’s progress.
Like many of us adjusting to COVID-19 some students felt especially isolated and lonely. However, strengthening their sense of community and improving their English through their LINC connections was helping.
“Connecting online for me was a form of human touch and warmth.” (Robert, France)
“I could meet my classmates online every week. It made me feel connected and not alone.” (Andrew, China)
Normally, at this time of year LINC classes would be drawing to a close and staff would be busy preparing for the annual Celebration of Learning event. A graduation ceremony of sorts, it’s a time for students to showcase their learning and to celebrate what they’ve accomplished. While the in-person event has been cancelled this year, teachers are keen to ensure each student’s achievements are still commemorated.
“It’s not my efforts but the efforts of the students that have made online learning possible,” shared Jas. “Together, we’re keeping their hopes and dreams intact during this difficult time.”
Bev providing teaching assistance online.
Martha presenting in LINC class.