Coronavirus: UAE school group launches live counselling sessions for parents

The programme will focus on mental health and well-being

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES , March 22 – 2020 :- Zack Stewart , Grade 12 teacher at the Dubai American Academy taking online class from his home in the Springs in Dubai. Today is the first day of distance learning as all the schools are closed as a preventive measure against coronavirus. (Pawan Singh / The National) For News/Online/Instagram. Story by Sarwat Nasir
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A UAE school group has launched a virtual counselling platform for parents struggling to handle distance learning.

From next week, Dubai British School - Jumeirah Park will host weekly video calls for parents to discuss issues with their children's home classes.

The live sessions will allow participants to pose questions to support staff at the school.

The programme will focus on mental health and well-being and parents will get tips on how to keep children engaged in their learning.

“As is occurring globally, many of our families are struggling to navigate the new normal, with distance learning and the anxiety that can come with so much change,” said Melissa Skiles, head of inclusion.

A primary student of Dubai British School - Jumeirah Park during an online class. Courtesy - Amy Lewis

“To try to ease some of that strain, our school counsellor and I will host the virtual group support sessions every week.

“The sessions will be conversation based and will include an open question and answer chat in which we can respond to queries.

If we find engagement is high and the support is beneficial to our school community, we will continue these throughout the duration of distance learning

"We will alternate a primary and secondary age focus."

Each session will have 20 participants per call and the first of the limited series will commence on Tuesday.

Ms Skiles said a registration link will be shared with parents each week via the school’s regular parent communication system.

They can then choose to log in to the group that best suits their needs.

“We have begun by scheduling a series of sessions over the next four weeks,” said Ms Skiles.

“If we find engagement is high and the support is beneficial to our school community, we will continue these throughout the duration of distance learning.

”In my sessions, I will be discussing basic principles of positive reinforcement, behaviour management strategies and general information on how to keep children happy, well and engaged in this new learning format.”

Launched by Taaleem, which has 13 campuses across the Emirates, Brendon Fulton, executive principal at Dubai British School - Jumeirah Park, said it planned to phase the initiative into other schools in the coming weeks.

“We are also looking into recording the sessions, with parent permission, so that those who are not able to log in virtually can follow the sessions and advice in their own time,” he said.

Mr Fulton said the school’s distance learning programme had been “well received.”

However, some parents had reached out to say they were "struggling” with a number of issues.

Among these included keeping their children motivated, managing general anxieties over the lockdown situation, as well as issues related to children feeling the distance between friends and teachers.

Rula Atallah has three children at Dubai British School aged 15, nine and five.

Since home learning started, she said staff had done a lot to help parents work through the teething issues.

But she has since had to put her home design business on hold due to the demands of managing school assignments.

“For each one of us this is a total trial-and-error situation,” she said.

“For teachers and parents, this is new. What I have found to be best is collaboration with other parents.

“When a teacher says something, my children respond positively, but with me it’s always a negotiation so these are the kinds of issues I wish to discuss.”

Last month, all schools across the country transitioned to remote learning because of the Covid-19 outbreak.

Online classes will continue until the end of the current academic year.

Amy Lewis, school counsellor at the school, said sharing problems in a group setting can often relieve anxiety.

“The session will be question led, but I will be sharing various tips and strategies to ensure parents can look after their own well-being and their children's,” she said.

“In terms of techniques, I will be sharing tips to overcome anxiety, how to discuss coronavirus in an age appropriate way, dealing with conflict, importance of structure and how to create a positive atmosphere while at home.”