Garden Hill First Nation in Manitoba decides students will repeat grade next year because of pandemic

The remote fly in community of Garden Hill First Nation in Manitoba, 475 km northeast of Winnipeg, has made a major decision in regards to schooling in the community.

All students will continue the grade they were in this year in the upcoming school year.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made delivering education to students much harder, especially in First Nations where internet can be hard to come by.

Garden Hill First Nation closed down their elementary and high schools early in the pandemic to try limit the spread of COVID-19 and the high school has since been used as an isolation centre.

The remote community tried remote learning but connectivity and access to internet and the needed equipment posed a challenge.

“We have LTE available, cell phone service here in Garden Hill but unfortunately the connection is bad, the connection is pretty bad,” said Garden Hill Director of Education Catherine Monias.

As a result, the community had to make the difficult choice to close the school.

“The administration and I and the teachers felt there was not enough coverage of the general outcomes, of the specific outcomes from the curriculum to warrant them to confident in the next grade level so that tough decision was made,” Monias said.

Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) said money through Budget 2021 will assist in a safe return to school for First Nations.

“Budget 2021 announced an additional investment of $112 million in 2021-22 to support First Nations with the resources they need to appropriately plan and prepare for a safe return to school for students and staff in the upcoming school year, whether that is in person or online,” said an ISC spokesperson in a written statement.

ISC also said they were not aware of any other First Nations holding back all of its students for one year.

Monias added that parents are fully aware that their children have not been able to get the full education required as a result of the pandemic and school closures.

“They’re very well aware that their child did not complete the full grade,” she said.

Monias said ultimately, it’s the future success of the students that fueled the decision.

“Our goal of Garden Hill education is that every student should be confident wherever they go, of they move to Winnipeg, Brandon, Thompson, anywhere, they should be confident academically. There shouldn’t be this stigma of two, three years behind so that’s why we need to bring them up. We will start recovery learning in September.”

There are over 1,200 students in both the elementary and high schools. The only students that will be going ahead are those who were in kindergarten this school year, as there is a no-fail policy in the province for that grade.

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