In a typical year, Skool Aid volunteers help around 230 students living in a low-income bracket by supplying pencils, paper, and all the other school essentials they will need for the classroom.
But this year is anything but typical.
With the pandemic forcing less time in the physical classroom and more learning time in the “Google Classroom,” which is a digital education platform, essential school tools have evolved well beyond pen and paper.
In particular, there’s a much greater need for a digital learning device called a “Chromebook” for students enrolled in grades 8 to 12 at the Trail high school.
So when a J.L. Crowe Secondary School counsellor asked Skool Aid if there was anyway they could help supply 40 Chromebooks to give – not loan – the high school’s low income students, the first thought the spearhead of this volunteer group had, was “ouch.”
But that first reaction was only momentary.
That’s because ever since Louise McEwan launched Skool Aid in the Catholic community of Trail back in 2010 to help 100-or-so low income families, she’s had faith that locals will always find a way to join hands and make sure the youngest members of the region have the supplies they need for the classroom.
And that includes Chromebooks, which are essentially a laptop. Through a Google account, the device provides access to Google Classroom, a free web service developed by Google for schools. The aim is to simplify the creation, distribution, and grading of assignments.
“Chromebooks are not something that would typically be on Skool Aid’s radar, we’ve always just focused on the basics,” McEwan told the Trail Times.
“This is the first time we’ve ventured beyond the basics, but these are extraordinary times.”
Skool Aid had already faced funding challenges for the usual school-year basics when COVID-19 quashed fundraising events for all those community groups that typically donate to the cause. Individual donations through Holy Trinity Parish also dried up when pandemic restrictions forced the church to close for several months.
When the group couldn’t meet its $10,000+ budget through community donations to buy the usual classroom supplies, Skool Aid was fortunate to cover a $3,000 shortfall through the Emergency Community Support Fund (Fund).
The federal government announced this $350M olive branch in May, as a means to help community organizations across Canada stay afloat. The Fund is delivered through intermediaries, those being the Canadian Red Cross, the United Way Centraide Canada, and Community Foundations of Canada.
“After I had done that, we had the request from the high school, from Loretta Jones, if we could fund Chromebooks,” McEwan continued.
“They had identified about 40 students from low income families who would benefit from having a Chromebook for their education.”
Not long after this request landed in McEwan’s hands, the mission committee from the First Presbyterian Church in downtown Trail came along with a donation of $2,500 to Skool Aid.
This was the first stream of money that would go toward the purchase of the digital devices.
Soon after, an opportunity surfaced to apply for funding through the Le Roi Community Foundation’s local grant cycle.
“Holy Trinity Parish put in for a grant as part of this regular grant cycle and we were awarded just over $8,000 to purchase the rest of the Chromebooks for these kids,” said McEwan.
“So we are going to be able to buy 40 Chromebooks for the high school kids from lower income families that will benefit them through their education. It was absolutely incredible.”
With this request met, McEwan is already thinking about next year’s students and how COVID will impact those needs.
“We will continue to monitor this and we’ll probably have to look at other ways to fund the Skool Aid program next year,” she shared. “But somehow it just always works out. I stress and worry and then it works out. The hand of God is in there somewhere for sure,” she said.
“And I think people in our area, maybe everywhere, but particularly in this area, are, for the most part, compassionate. They care about children and they care about education.”