Carter Reid is a new kid in a new city. Even if Winnipeg wasn’t mired in a pandemic, he’d be looking forward to the new school year, and all the people he’d meet.
“When you’re forced to sit in a classroom with 30 other people, you gotta at least make one friend,” the 15-year-old said with a smile.
But this won’t be a regular fall for Reid, nor any other high school student.
At least some Manitoba students in grades 9 to 12 won’t be in a classroom daily, as the province imposes restrictions on their return while the threat of COVID-19 continues to loom.
The province is recommending all high school students go to class, but the frequency of their visits will be dialled back if their school cannot accommodate physical distancing. Students are required to spend at least two days in a classroom on a six-day cycle.
Alan Campbell, president of the Manitoba School Boards Association, told The Canadian Press last week he expects a majority of high schools will be hard pressed to accommodate full-time classroom learning.
‘Easier to learn’ in the classroom
But that doesn’t mean students aren’t itching to get back, even if they understand the health risks of the novel coronavirus.
“I really hope it goes back just because it’s a lot easier to learn,” Reid said.
“You can ask a teacher a question and you don’t have to wait for them to respond,” he added, explaining most of his email queries were answered in under two hours by teachers at his former rural Ontario school, but it’s not as instantaneous as raising his hand in a classroom.
Manitoba’s back-to-school plan, following the indefinite suspension in March, says all schools must enforce two metres of physical distancing between students to the greatest extent possible. When not viable, students will be organized into cohorts and space arranged to encourage separation, including the use of larger areas like multipurpose rooms.
Kindergarten to grade 8 students, and students with special needs in all grades, will be back to school full-time beginning Sept. 8.
Elena Verrelli, 13, is looking forward herself to the new surroundings of a new school. She’s enrolling in St. Boniface Diocesan High School for the first time.
“It would have been nice to go back full-time to see everyone, to meet new people, to experience what actual high school would be like without a pandemic going on in the world,” said the grade 9 student, while taking a break from skateboarding at The Forks on Sunday.
Many of her friends are eager to re-enter school, including those not as enthused by academics, she said. They miss the routine of in-class instruction and chatting with friends, Verrelli said.
Michele Holmes, 18, said dividing her last year of high school between a classroom and her home isn’t ideal, but she’ll “push through it” if that’s how she must finish her Grade 12 year.
After dropping out of school last year, she’s planning to enrol in Glenlawn Collegiate again. She wants a high school diploma and the career opportunities that could arise.
Even if her school year opens under peculiar circumstances, she said it’s smart to mandate physical distancing in schools. She worries of her classmates who are immunocompromised.
Mike Wake, superintendent of St. James-Assiniboia School Division, can relate to students’ longing for the classroom, as he has high school students living under his roof.
“They understand the reason why they’re doing online full-time in the spring, but if they have the opportunity to get back in school, they want to do that,” he said.
Wake said his northeast Winnipeg division is leaning toward alternate days in class as the learning model going forward. It would ensure the same high school classes would be offered, though nothing has been determined yet.
He added there’s a possibility that students in specialized programming, such as vocational programs, may show up to class every day since they could be kept separate in a distinct cohort from everyone else.
The division will rely on input from the school communities this month before settling on any learning model, he said.
Wake said in-class learning will always be preferred for high school students.
“We’re trying to help our young people navigate through adolescence and to sit there and think that you don’t have to do that in person would be ignorance on anyone’s part,” he said.
“The more we can get kids into our buildings and having that face-to-face discussion, I think that would just help supplement anything that we’re doing outside of the classroom.”
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