COVID-19 has brought many questions regarding school and the future to the minds of everyone, and youth and teens are no exception.
At the beginning, the questions were: What will the rest of the school year look like? Will we go back? How will online learning affect our studies?
Now that these questions have been answered and teens are learning to adapt, getting back on track with online, distanced learning, the next questions are coming from the grad classes of 2020.
Grade 8 students moving to Grade 9 and Grade 12 students moving on to university are wondering what September will look like. Indications from education minister Stephen Lecce are that elementary and secondary students will be back in the classroom, in some format, come September, while many universities across Ontario and Canada have moved most of their fall semester courses online.
I asked some of our local Grade 8 students for their thoughts on the end of this school year, and online learning as they transition to Grade 9, many of whom shared their academic concerns and disappointment over missing out on graduation.
Mykayla Brown says she finds the current situation difficult, without direct, face-to-face contact with her teachers. The transition to high school will be weird, different from both current learning situations, she says, “so it’ll be hard but not too bad.”
Grade 8 feels unfinished, says Tannin Driedger-Bradshaw. “No one could ever have expected what happened these last couple of months, but because of it we weren’t able to fully enjoy our last year in elementary school, or those last few days of school with your friends before we go onto high school.”
She says she will really miss the opportunity to get ready for graduation. “Some of our greatest friends we have had for most of our lives will be moving on to different schools. This is a big step in our lives and it’s sad that we can’t be with our friends and family during it. We can talk to them online, but it certainly isn’t the same.”
Online learning is new for all of us, she adds. And some might be finding it a struggle. One of the biggest challenges is being very organized and conscientious to ensure the work, assignments and tests are done on time, without having teachers’ daily reminders of what is due. Another issue is learning on your own, as teachers aren’t always able to help students face to face, although zoom chats are always available. When Grade 9 starts, I’m not sure what is going to happen but I do feel online learning will become even more difficult for many of us. It’s one thing to go from elementary school to high school, but it is another thing to have to learn in a whole new way.”
Grade 12 graduating students have similar thoughts and concerns. As a graduating Grade 12 student, I question what university will look like, and how an online university classroom will work. The university sent me a welcome letter and is encouraging me to secure my residence for the year, they have prepared single rooms, and special small group sessions for getting to know others, and so I know there is some plan. But will I be safe? Should I stay home first semester. In this unpredictable time, teens are searching for answers.
My friends and Grade 12 graduates have similar questions. I asked them how they are feeling about the end of Grade 12, and their thoughts on September. As always, I can rely on my friends to provide insight and perspective.
Genny Moncion says while it is not the send-off grads had envisioned at the end of Grade 12, “I feel we can all be encouraged by the fact that by staying home we are supporting each other in health and safety, and also supporting our various endeavours for the future. When we all get through this, there will be far more to celebrate than graduation, including the survival of our social interactions with families and friends.”
It’s a sad end to Grade 12, says Sadie Williams, “but I’ve mostly been trying not to dwell on it.”
She is uncertain about her plans for September, she says. She’s excited about acceptance at Queen’s university for media and performance production, but is considering whether to defer it for a year, or start online courses, “but because the future is so uncertain due to COVID, I haven’t made any set-in-stone plans.”
Brett Butler says although graduation can’t be celebrated this year, “I’m confident we’ll have the best parties after this is all over. It’s a bummer, but it’s necessary.” He thinks online learning will create some confusion for first-year post-secondary students, but “hopefully some of the flaws are polished out.”
“The end of high school is always a time of transition and I know that it has been made more difficult by this pandemic for all of us,” says Clara De Munnich. “Personally, however, I have felt reconciled to the reality of the situation for a while now. I am currently deciding whether I should participate in online learning with my university or request a deferral. Her decision must be made soon, she says, but she’s waiting to see whether there are any changes to the situation.
If I were to give one piece of advice to any graduate, it would be to know, “you are not alone, and if you are feeling overwhelmed or alone please reach out. I know schools and universities have extended open communication to help.”