A side-effect of the global pandemic seems to be a warp of time, speeding along decision-making to mere hours.
In the case of Lethbridge College’s Child and Youth Care program, it took just 48 hours to develop a plan to make sure second-year students could complete the requirements of their final practicum placements when they were not able to work on site due to coronavirus concerns.
Program Chair Donna Kalau says in retrospect, there are things she’d do differently if she’d had even a couple of extra days to think on it. But out of this imperfect situation something special has emerged – a rich dialogue between faculty and students as well as the creation of resources that could have lasting benefit to our practicum partners.
In a typical year, students have both an agency and faculty supervisor during a practicum. The agency supervisor provides day-to-day mentorship and ongoing feedback, while the faculty member consults weekly on the academics.
“When this happened, students lost that agency supervisor because they had to be focused on what was happening in their own agencies and caring for coworkers and clients,” Kalau says. “So now, the faculty supervisors are the ones who have been mentoring them. They’re the ones seeing the work and providing feedback. And there’s richness in the conversations between students and faculty.”
Since the cancellation of nearly all CYC practicums on March 18, students have been creating resources for their placement sites. Having spent three weeks of their nine-week placements on site before the COVID-19 shutdown, students were asked to identify a need they could help fill by creating resources for use by their former hosts. In doing so, they’d need to demonstrate at least one of the CYC outcomes of program and community development, activity programming, therapeutic interventions and case management planning.
Kalau is supervising three students, and she’s impressed with the excitement students have for their work, the value of resources they’re creating and the learning that’s still happening. And she’s even more excited to hear students’ goal reports, once their projects are completed.
One of the students Kalau is supervising is Eric Gallant, whose final practicum was with ARCHES Lethbridge, a not-for-profit providing harm reduction and outreach services. The organization has a broad range of programs, but its supervised consumption site has proven particularly polarizing in Lethbridge. During his time there, Gallant worked in community outreach, with businesses near the supervised consumption site and with clients on the street.
He met ARCHES workers who said they wouldn’t tell their own relatives where they worked because of their reaction. Along with his previous practicums at a school and at a residential treatment facility, he identified what he believes is a universal need in human services.
“We’re really, really good at preaching self-care, but as practitioners, we’re often very bad at practising it. There’s a lot of reasons for that. I think there are misunderstanding about what self-care actually means. And I think people have a lot of difficulty accepting that they actually deserve it, that they have value and need to take care of themselves.
“In a place like ARCHES, you’re dealing with people who are in some of the worst situations you could ever imagine,” he adds. “There’s huge potential for secondary trauma. Staff burn out. They’re exhausted. . . I have friends who have worked for counselling programs who had to leave. They’re working blue collar jobs now.”
To meet this need, Gallant is creating a program of three, two-hour sessions based on Enneagram Personality Testing. Participants identify which of nine personality types they are, then Gallant’s program will recommend self-care activities tailored to the individual and intended to bring balance to their lives. Aside from the value his work might have to ARCHES, Gallant says he intends to continue developing this concept, and he sees potential application for those who work in human services and their clients, too.
For CYC student Remi Ayilara, her final practicum promised to put her right where she wanted to be – working in a school, supporting the wellness of young people. She was assigned to the counselling team at Lethbridge Collegiate Institute.
As a student in Nigeria, Ayilara was hoping to become a doctor when an administrative error landed her in a botany program. She thought about parlaying her botany degree into a role in the pharmaceutical industry, but by chance, she found work as a school counsellor.
“I really loved it because I was caring for people,” she says. “If I can’t care for you medically, I can care for you emotionally, right?”
While working at the school, her application to come to Canada was approved, so she began searching for a program to fit her passion. The Child and Youth Care program was a match, so she moved to Lethbridge with her two daughters.
The idea for her practicum project was something she started working on during her three brief weeks at LCI – the Tea Cozy program.
“A lot is going on with students, and not just academics,” Ayilara says. “Their wellbeing, mental health, family issues, family dynamics, personal problems, a lot. In Nigeria, as a counsellor I only helped with academics. Here, it’s looking at the whole student, the whole person.”
Tea Cozy is a weekly program scheduled during students’ lunch breaks. Each week, students would explore activities on healthy relationships, wellness and communication, “which is the main thing in life,” she says. “The activities would help students reach the mindset that they are not helpless in their situation.”
There would be tea and snacks, she says, because “in life, food is very important.”
“The program creates a place where counsellors can actually let the students know whenever you are faced with a problem or a difficult time, you are not alone, and we have resources that can help you,” she says. “My intention is, after I’m done creating the program, it will live with the counselling team at LCI who can utilize it.”
Kalau says she hopes the resources will help agencies, but their creation has already proven valuable.
“We want this to be a mutually beneficial experience always, so hearing from placements down the road would be good follow-up,” Kalau says. “But we’re hearing from students what learning is coming from elements of their projects. What I’m hearing is there’s a level of excitement about what they’re creating and some feeling of giving back.”