Distance makes the heart grow fonder for Stettler Elementary teachers

Written by Stu Salkeld

Narci Nenetz, Erin Prehn and Joe Thibeau, Grade 6 teachers at Stettler Elementary, agreed Alberta’s education system is in unknown territory. ECA Review/S. Salkeld

Narci Nenetz, Erin Prehn and Joe Thibeau, Grade 6 teachers at Stettler Elementary, agreed Alberta’s education system is in unknown territory. 

Prehn said it was daunting to get back to school March 16 and digest the massive shift and the fact no school had ever had to deal with anything like this before.

Nenetz said it was nice to work with a team of teachers eager to help each other out. Prehn said it’s been gratifying to have patient parents out there.

Nenetz said teachers tackled the problem of how to deliver content to kids at home and while things like Google Classroom aren’t as effective as face-to-face, they can get the job done. 

Prehn noted teachers, students and parents are all now on a learning curve together. 

Take, for example, Physical Ed class. 

Using Google Classroom, teachers post challenges and daily workouts that don’t require equipment.

Thibeau said when he first heard the announcement of school closures, he thought it would just be for a few weeks but after seeing daily changes he now realizes coronavirus is much more serious than anticipated. 

“This isn’t something that is three weeks, a month-long,” he said. Thibeau also pointed out the spirit of teamwork teachers enjoy and the “amazing response” from everyone in the education system.

He said he’s a bit concerned for those families who don’t have all the technological resources that some others have. 

Thibeau also pointed out that anyone, teacher, student or parent, who hasn’t used technology to this degree before may struggle a bit.

Also, the three teachers pointed out they continue to reach out to vulnerable students who thought of Stettler Elementary as a safe place in their lives. They noted the school counsellor Penny Dahl has also been reaching out to students.

New reality

Stettler Elementary was only one of many schools across the province that found out with very little warning the week of March 16 that all such education centres were being closed to prevent the spread of coronavirus. 

However, education as expected to go on.

Three Grade 3 teachers at the school, Karen Rachar, Haley Tod and Christie Riddell, plus a Grade 4 teaching peer, Denyse Boyd, said they felt a bit blindsided by the sudden announcement.

“It was shocking,” said Boyd in an empty classroom March 25. Boyd said she left school on Friday as usual, just assuming she’d see everyone Monday morning.

Rachar said a phone call the evening of Sun. March 15 notifying her of the school closure left a “surreal, unreal feeling.”

Riddell said the announcement was painful to a degree. “It was very emotional,” she said. “I felt like my kids were being ripped away.” 

Riddell said trying to adapt to the change, plus instructions on how to use technology to fill the void, left her in panic mode that first week, plus trying to get lockers cleaned out so kids could continue using their notebooks and other school supplies.

Rachar said she said she was confident the kids’ education would continue whether schools were closed or not, but how that would be achieved wasn’t always clear.

So far, schools like Stettler Elementary have been employing software for video conferencing to keep teachers in touch with their students, and some of the learning can even be done directly through smart-boards in classrooms. 

Rachar noted students nowadays are tech-savvy so they seem to be adapting well while Tod noted the learning curve extends to some parents but she’s impressed that everybody has been very positive in what has been a very unexpected situation.


Stu Salkeld, LJI reporter

ECA Review

About the author

Stu Salkeld

Stu Salkeld, who has upwards of 28 years of experience in the Alberta community newspaper industry, is now covering councils and other news in the Stettler region and has experience working in the area as well.

He has joined the ECA Review as a Local Journalism Initiative Journalist.

Stu earned his two-year diploma in print journalism from SAIT in Calgary from 1993 to ’95 and was raised in Oyen, Alta., one of the communities within the ECA Review’s coverage area.