During the pandemic, two mothers—Krysta and Kath—sat chatting. Krysta’s daughter was in chemotherapy. Kath’s son has Primary B-cell deficiency and Down syndrome. The two of them realized that all the parents homeschooling their children through the pandemic were experiencing a little bit of what life always looks like for a family with an immunocompromised child. For these families, the common cold can mean five days in the hospital for their child. Regular school can be a hazard because of this. Many families have to keep their children away from the school system so as not to expose themselves to possible sources of infection or err on the side of risk, staying enrolled but needing to then deal with frequent and lengthy hospital stays.
Krysta and Kath wanted to apply what everyone was learning through COVID to a new school here in Saskatoon. They didn't want to leave immunocompromised children behind as everyone else returns to normal, post-pandemic. They reached out to friends and family through Facebook and conversations, and realized just how important this idea could be. Currently, in Saskatoon, there isn't any school option for children who need to avoid infection. Krysta and Kath held a virtual townhall, asking for feedback and advice. The foundation for At-Risk Together (ART): A co-operative school for immunocompromised children was begun.
At ART, immunocompromised children and their siblings will have a space to socialize and learn together. As we've all seen through COVID-19, small cohorts, an emphasis on outdoor education, proper ventilation, screening for illness, and frequent hand-washing can go a very long way towards preventing infection. Member-at-large, Anne-Marie Wheeler, is a mom who knows the inside of a children’s hospital. "We want to give children whose medical needs, even past COVID, mean they would otherwise be isolating or suffering repeated illness," she says. "We’re offering an option for something other than online school for kids who need it most. Social isolation is terrible for kids."
ART will offer safer classrooms where the risk of infection is kept low so that kids can learn and enjoy each other without being afraid a normal school day could become a hospital stay. Infection control is the number one priority to ensure ART Co-op offers what these families most need.
Parents of immunocompromised children have had to be very flexible in their work arrangements, if they can manage to maintain employment, in order to support a child in isolation or to cope with repeated illnesses and admissions.. This school will change that. For the first year, ART Co-op will be doing a 'proof of concept'. There will be two cohorts of six students and one teacher, using a Montessori-inspired discovery-based approach.
"The world has learned a lot about infection control, and we’ll continue to enforce best practices in infection control," Anne-Marie says. "Some of the differences between our school and other schools is that we will go year-round and we will accommodate kids who needed short-term medical care. At the moment, we’ve incorporated as a service cooperative and are a registered non-profit and we’ve applied for Charitable Status. We are and have been applying for grants and this summer we’ll be fundraising." The mission is to keep the school low cost for families and offer options for those who can’t afford any fees.
ART Co-op is actively fundraising now. Please support them here, follow them on social media here @AtRiskTogether, and share their story with any family or friends who you think would want to know about this incredible initiative.