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Remote Learning Presents Additional Challenge for Students Experiencing Homelessness

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Life during a pandemic is hard enough, but for youth experiencing homelessness, the isolation of the lockdown is especially challenging. While Good Shepherd community resources and mental health programs are still welcoming clients in need, it’s difficult for youth to access while the stay-at-home orders are in place and social gatherings are prohibited.

“School is more than just a classroom for our youth,” says Jessica Ward, manager of Good Shepherd Notre Dame House. “Because they are physically here, they are more likely to access additional supports throughout the day, like mental health clinicians, free meals and hygiene products.”

Good Shepherd, in partnership with the Hamilton Wentworth Catholic District School Board, runs two alternative education programs for high school students. Notre Dame House School is for homeless and at-risk youth in the community who want to complete their high school education. The Jeanne Scott Parent & Child Resource Centre assists young mothers with completing their education while on-site child care is provided for their babies and toddlers.

Lately in the news, we have heard from many parents, students and educators about the effect that the pandemic is having on education. For at-risk and homeless youth, the most obvious challenge is access to technology. Most of the students in our school programs access remote learning from their cell phones because they don’t have their own computers.

“They don’t have the necessary technology to sit and learn remotely for hours each day,” says Jessica. “On top of that, most of the youth don’t have access to a quiet space or a supportive family to provide stability and help them focus.”

At the Jeanne Scott Parent & Child Resource Centre, young moms face additional obstacles in caring for their children during the lockdown.

“We have really seen the strength and resiliency in these young women as they continue to work on school credits while the barriers of this pandemic could have them stopped in their tracks,” says Jennifer Jewer, program manager at Regina’s Place and the Jeanne Scott Parent & Child Resource Centre.

Jennifer says that about 65 percent of the students are currently participating in remote learning. This high number can be attributed to the fact that many of the women receive Learning, Earning and Parent Program (LEAP) funding through the City of Hamilton and they risk losing that funding without continuing their education. 

To help the young moms, staff at Good Shepherd Regina’s Place are coming together to provide occasional child care for the residents to give them time to complete school work. They are also planning virtual coffee dates to help with feelings of isolation.

“Our moms here have an understanding that their lives are going to be filled with challenges and obstacles to overcome,” says Jennifer, “We want to be there for them in any way we can during this exceptionally challenging time.”

As a testament to the determination of the youth at our two schools, we mark the academic accomplishments and high school graduation at the end of the school year. Sadly, although we can not celebrate their achievements in person, as is our tradition, we look forward to the day when we see the proud and happy faces on our students again.

How you can help

Good Shepherd Youth Services welcomes donations to support the education of youth during this time and beyond. Once in-person learning begins again, the schools will work in cohorts to ensure the safety of the students and teachers. Access to laptops and tablets will have a significant impact on the success of our education programs. If you would like to contribute, please contact the Development Office at 905.528.6435.

Notre Dame House also is assembling “Lockdown Kits” to help youth get through the loneliness and isolation of the pandemic. They are asking for support from the community in gathering items like art and craft supplies, board games, puzzles, adult colouring books, laundry detergent and gift cards for laundry mats, grocery stores and Tim Hortons. If you are able to donate, please call 905.308.8090 to make arrangements for a safe drop off.

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