[originally published in the Kitchissippi Times]
Nepean High School students have been back in classrooms for a few weeks now, with kids and teachers adjusting to yet another new system for learning. I talked to students to hear their thoughts on returning to school, the current restrictions and their experiences so far in classes. Overwhelmingly, they said things are “better than last year,” but, unfortunately, that was a low bar to pass.
We are now back to a semester model, meaning students have four courses until February, when everyone gets a new four. However, there are only two classes a day, both lasting 2.5 hours. To make this work, we take two courses for a whole week, and then alternate weeks and take the other two courses. The students I talked to all greatly preferred this model to last year’s, when we only had one class each day. Last year, 50 per cent of class time was spent at home doing online learning, which has, thankfully, been eliminated this year. Students agree that online learning was overall less productive than being physically at school, so they are happy to be back at Nepean full-time this fall.
Still, many students said they would prefer to have four classes daily, as we did before the pandemic. They think the value of taking four classes would outweigh the risk of transmission caused by contact with more classmates.
In terms of actual learning, almost everyone I spoke with said their classes skipped some parts of the curriculum last year, due to the pandemic’s disruption of regular teaching. Coming back to school, they feel they are lagging behind the usual expectations for their grade level in most classes. On the bright side, they also said their teachers are working hard to catch them up, and most classes are doing extensive review of last year’s material to help students get back into academic shape.
Outside the classroom, school sports, in-person clubs and extracurricular activities are currently “paused.” The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) decided to suspend these activities, despite the Government of Ontario’s choice to allow them. In comparison, extracurriculars are being reintroduced in Toronto, which, at the time of writing, has more than three times as many active COVID-19 cases as Ottawa.
Most students feel that sports should be allowed, and many commented that they are permitted to play sports outside of school, such as in recreational leagues and competitive club teams—so why not at school? Similarly, they were confused as to why clubs are not allowed, seeing as they could follow the same rules as regular classes, and club gatherings could even be held outside. Some kids said they understand why the risk posed by these activities is being avoided, but others were frustrated by these seemingly arbitrary rules.
Although no physical clubs are running now, Nepean students and staff are working hard to assemble online meetings for clubs, such as the Diverse Student Union, Gender and Sexuality Alliance and the Art Club. Their perseverance is keeping these social activities alive throughout challenging circumstances.
Overall, it seems like everyone is excited to be back at school again, and most changes since last year are being received positively, but students had hoped this would be closer to a normal school year.
At this point, we know that our situation could change quickly, so we will work hard to keep each other safe, and hope that things continue to improve for our second semester.