October 23, 2020
And we’re off! YONA is up and running once again – well, as much as anything can be up and running in these uncertain and fluctuating times. But both schools of YONA-Sistema, as well as Kipohtakâw YONA at Alexander First Nation have taken their first steps of the 20/21 school year.
“The start of the year has felt very different this year with regards to structure, procedures, and the types of problems we need to resolve,” says YONA Site Manager at St. Alphonsus School, Jacquie McNulty. “During the first two weeks of September, we essentially created a new program - one that seeks to strike a balance between offering the same high quality music education and community feel while balancing the need to respect boundaries imposed by COVID-19. Our staff orientation was largely spent discussing different ways to make it all work.”
“Kipohtakâw YONA has always had two cohorts, previously of mixed levels. This year, the two cohorts are based around the students' grades to avoid groups mixing as much,” assesses Kipohtakâw YONA Site Coordinator Lauren Dykstra. “There are also some students who are learning exclusively online. I'll also be the only Teaching Artist going to teach in person to avoid Teaching Artists being at too many sites.”
Clearly, it’s an ongoing adjustment for everyone, but perhaps for no one more than Tisa Haesch, the new Principal at YONA-Sistema’s other school, St. Teresa of Calcutta. This will be her first experience with the program, now in its eighth year at the school. “I’m excited to learn more about it,” she admits. “We have two classrooms this year that are being provided by the school for the children to come.”
Both Ms. Jacquie and Ms. Lauren say the students they work with are as excited as St. Teresa’s new Principal. “The students are incredibly excited to be starting up again, and are already asking when they'll get to perform again,” Ms. Lauren says of the Kipohtakâw Education Centre at the Alexander First Nation. “The school is being as flexible and adaptive as possible, and is especially supportive of helping the students with technology challenges.”
With pandemic guidelines undergoing many updates and modifications as circumstances dictate, it’s no surprise that “flexible and adaptive,” and adjectives thereof, are common words lately. “We have to be extremely flexible,” Ms. Jacquie echoes. “Luckily, YONA has always been so. We seek to provide the best care and support for every child - which often means understanding the unique needs of that student.”
“We finished YONA in the spring online anticipating that we would need to utilize our online format in some capacity this fall, and we are,” adds Kristin Swirles, YONA Site Manager at St. Teresa. “What's different is that lots of parents and kids are now very familiar with Zoom and other online platforms. I feel good about the online/in-person schedule we've built and are trialing because it will, hopefully, allow us to switch back and forth as needed. If a school shuts down because of COVID the hope is that our students can smoothly transition to their YONA classes online.”
The fundamental nature of the Sistema-based programs has much to do with the benefits of ensemble (which the pandemic has largely ruled out for the time being), so life has thrown everyone a pretty wicked curveball, and YONA’s staff are game to tough it out.
“I feel very happy to be back in action,” Ms. Kristin says. “It's so nice seeing the students, and it's been great to see the smiles of family members at the end of the day picking their children up from YONA. Being back at the school (while only part time with one cohort at the moment) feels like a little piece of normalcy. It's great.”
“I'm looking forward to this year being a year of experimentation,” Ms. Jacquie adds. “What opportunities does our new reality offer us?”
“Music fills the soul, especially during the pandemic right now, making students feel needed and that they belong – there’s hope,” says YONA rookie Tisa Haesch. “What a great opportunity for the children.”