Coronavirus: Pickering, Ont., families teach their children with unique community school

As the ongoing coronavirus pandemic continues to challenge parents with sending their kids to class, a handful of families in Pickering have taken the matter into their own hands and started their own community school.

“It’s a lot of work at both ends, but the payoff is priceless,” says Steve Mcgoey whose son and daughter both take part in the program.

The group made up of four families who started their own school when they realized heading back wasn’t safe. They’ve called it Greenwood Academy, aptly named after the hamlet they live in, located in North Pickering.

“Some of these families are very vulnerable, and we have no capacity for risk,” says Stephanie Stavros, who lives with cystic fibrosis and is immuno-compromised.

“Going back to school wasn’t an option for us. And the online learning wasn’t going so well. So we decided to create something new,” she said.

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It’s the same situation for Krysta Linton, who has chronic pericardial effusion, a medical condition which essentially means she has fluid around her heart. The complication makes it imperative she stays healthy during the pandemic.

Read more: Canadian parents are setting up ‘pandemic pods’ during coronavirus: what are they?

“I knew for us we wouldn’t be able to put our children back in public school right away,” she says.

There’s just seven students in the class, made up of kids between Kindergarten and Grade 1, along with their younger siblings. The idea was a hit with their kids, who are also their students.

“I love it,” says Levi, a six-year-old in the program. “It’s more free than other schools.”

And that’s evident with the curriculum parents have created.

Children learn from a range of instructors, including a retired teacher who volunteers her time for them. And although it is actually like school, the kids appear to enjoy the experience.

“They’re having a ball,” says Stavros, whose five-year-old son, Grey, is learning at the school. We are just having adventures every day. There’s a ton of outdoor time.”

But they still have a full curriculum.

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Read more: Inside a pandemic learning pod: How some kids are learning at home amid coronavirus

“They do lots of academics — the reading, the writing. We do lots of art with them,” says Stavros. “We’ve also tried to infuse a lot in nature.”

The students are taught in a range of locations, including a kindergarten classroom set up in one of the parents basements. But if you didn’t know, you would think it was a room in a school, with numbers and letters on the walls to help teach the children a range of topics.

“My eldest son says he loves our home school more than his public school,” says Linton. “I think it’s just because he has a lot more time doing hands on learning, which he really enjoys.”

While the weather is warmer, the class of seven is also learning music lessons outdoors — an important class to have as schools have been scaling theirs back during the pandemic.

“If there are any programs, it’s very limited,” says Roxanne Christian, a music therapist the school hired to help out.

“Some schools are so strict to the point where they don’t even sing,” she says.

Christian, a music therapist with, says having music as part of their life allows them to grow.

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“They can work on their impulse control, taking turns, listening skills and creative expression,” says Christian.

With a wide range of education opportunities, one of the main goals was for their children to have friends.

“It just made sense,” says Kelly Mcgoey. “This is what we want. We want the kids to know each other.”

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That’s something kids agree with.

“I love it because I get to be with my friends,” says five-year-old Grey.

The group operates in a very tight social bubble as well, all with the understanding of safety around COVID-19.

“Even if one of us gets the sniffles, we know to just go and get the test and make sure everyone is safe,” says Linton. The families are even isolating themselves from their families.

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“It’s a small sacrifice for everything that we’re able to get out of this,” she adds.

But they say it’s no easy feat, either. Along with a retired teacher who volunteers her time, parents teach whatever they can, as well — all while also working from home.

“Parenting as well as teaching, there’s a balance in the household and a balance in priorities and allowing them still be kids,” says Steve Mcgoey.

“We’re all learning and adapting. This has been a blessing in disguise that we kind of stumbled upon. So we’re very fortunate,” he adds.

They hope to run the academy until it’s safe to go back and are even planning a winter program. And although it may come to an end one day, it’s their hope this experience will stay with them.

“We can just feel really proud at what we were able to create during this unusual time,” says Stavros.

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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