Do not bury your head in the sand - especially despite COVID 19!

Adolescent renovating flat
Short description
Interview with Laura Font Mela, director of Salesians Sant Jordi-PES Mataró, how they have successfully shifted their physical training program for troubled adolescence online and the experience with it due to the COVID-19 restrictions.

Within the UIA project ‘Yes, we rent!‘ the city of Mataró intends to reactivate private vacant flats for the rental housing market and make them available below-market price to households in need of affordable housing. The city will use the renovation of the flats as well to improve the working skills of troubled adolescents, having problems to enter the labour market and provide them with practical work experience.

Salesian Mataró, a non-profit organisation working in the social education and capacity building of children, problematic teenagers and adults, is in charge of the technical training and practical exercises with the young people. The intention is to develop their technical and organization skills for the future renovation works in the vacant flats.

After the training programme with the adolescents had started, the COVID 19 pandemic began with its restrictions on physical gathering. In the interview of UIA expert Nils Scheffler with Laura Font Mela, director of Salesians Sant Jordi-PES Mataró, she tells how they are dealing with the COVID 19 restrictions and successfully succeeded in adapting and continuing the training programme with the educators and young people.

 

What was your first reaction when you heard about the limitations of COVID-19 and you realized that the previous training program could not be continued the same way?

Laura Font Mela:

My first reaction was to collapse, as I thought the project would come to a complete standstill and that we had to leave the group of young people isolated in their home, unmotivated and discouraged. But luckily the educational team in charge of the group of young people was able to react and adapted rather quickly the working methodology to the new situation.

 

How did you adapt the training programme?

Laura Font Mela:

There were three solutions to the new situation:

  • The first one, to teach the energy efficiency modules online through group video calls with the young people and to set up the learning platform moodle, sending online homework in relation to each module to the youngsters and to correct the homework with them;
  • the second, to send videos in the form of training capsules to work on aspects of different learning modules (welding, electricity, carpentry, etc). Through the capsules different activities of the modules are taught;
  • the third, to reinforce basic language skills because many of the young people in the course are of immigrant origin and have not acquired well these very necessary skills.

 

What challenges did the new training approach present?

Laura Font Mela:

The biggest challenge was the emotional accompaniment of the young people, since their learning could not be done face-to-face with the others. It was a very hard blow for them because they had many expectations to the training course as it used to be. Also the online tutorial work was a challenge, which luckily we can say by now we have overcome it. It was difficult to carry it out because it was new to us in this way and thus, not at all easy for us.

 

How did the adolescents react when they heard about the changes and the new training approach?

Laura Font Mela:

The young people adapted to the changes in learning programme very well and their response have been positive at all times, but the emotional part has been hard to work through because these young people are living through already very tough personal situations, to which this pandemic has added to. Their living conditions were not and are not easy, and morale has been low for a long time.

 

How does the new training approach affect the young people from your point of view? Are there any advantages comparing to the previous approach?

Laura Font Mela:

The young people had to adapt to the new situation and for some it has not been easy: the lack of connectivity in their homes as well as the lack of computer tools (tablets or computers) made it impossible at first for them to follow the course in the new online mode. Our organization in that sense looked for foundations to help us to provide the young people in their homes with everything needed to be able to follow and participate the online course. We managed to get the necessary funds and equipped them so that they could follow normally the online classes.

The main advantage detected by this new situation is that the young people have learned to learn online and manage all their knowledge online. They have advanced their computer skills a lot in a practical way. At this point, we must highlight the help the young people have given to each other in a selfless way, so that they were all connected and learned at the same time and speed.

 

From your experience, what cannot be replaced by the online training and has to be caught up as soon as the COVID-19 restrictions allow?

Laura Font Mela:

Obviously, the practical part of the technical training modules is the one that we have resumed immediately once the COVID restrictions allowed it. First we did it in small groups within our entity and occupying all the available workshops. The number of hours of the course was increased to try to catch up on the practical knowledge.

 

Which lessons do you draw from the current online training? What went as expected and what surprises - positive and negative - occurred?

 

Laura Font Mela:

 

It was impressive to see the great capacity of our educational team to react and respond to such a new situation and how quick the young people adapted to the new situation. We have learned to give priority to the emotional work in the first place in order to allow each young person to follow the course normally in a telematic way; and the importance to continue the programme online and to meet with all the partners of the project for the team spirit and find good solutions.

What surprised me positively was that no young person disconnected from the programme and their very quick reaction in adapting to the new training contents. Negatively surprised me the lack of connectivity and computer tools the young people had in their homes.

 

Laura, thank you very much for the interview and the information. I wish you much success in your further work with the young people!

 

 

Summary:

The Salesian Mataró’s approach has shown how important it is, when confronted with new circumstances which simply do not allow to continue as before, not to bury one's head in the sand, but to accept the challenge and quickly seek and implement solutions. The continuity, continuing the training programme online via group video calls and an online learning platform was important in order to not lose the young people taking part in the training programme. It was learned that it is essential to take the people along and accompany them emotionally right from the start, so they can find their way in the new situation and continue to participate in the training program; even without direct physical contact and group work.

Findings that were gained were in particular that the teachers also had to learn how to do online tutorials and that the troubled adolescences are often not sufficiently equipped to participate in an online training program. Here it was very essential that foundations were quickly found which helped to provide the young people with the necessary equipment and sufficient internet connection.

On the positive side, the online training has helped the young people to improve their computer skills considerably; and to see how they have supported each other.

Nevertheless, online cannot simply replace offline. The physical meeting is of particular importance for the group feeling and for the technical, practical training. Luckily, with the easing of COVID restrictions, the practical training could be started, practicing the renovation skills in communal flats.

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