Bethany Poltl, University of Waterloo:
I started my first year of university with excitement and apprehension.
I am generally a very positive, “let’s do this” kind of person, as readers of The Local would know from my previous articles. And although I have continued to make the best of the situation as it is, I can tell you that every friend I have spoken with, university or high school, is feeling the strain and stress of the moment. Now, more than ever, mental wellness has to be a priority for all of us.
I chose to go away to the University of Waterloo. I have found that my floor mates are all as serious as I am about our health and our education. We have become a team, working to keep each other positive. I do have to attribute our situation to our residence don who makes sure we are okay and organizes wellness events for us. My professors are available for online consultation and my university residence has a lecture hall for our learning community.
I have joined clubs and sports teams, masked, with hand sanitizing and social distancing. Joining these clubs and teams has helped me meet new friends and establish some routine for socialization outside of daily studying. I feel every effort is being made to try to create a good experience, even though it is not the typical highly social atmosphere of a non-COVID time.
When speaking with my friends, many are not having that same experience at university. Those who chose to go away and stay in residence are feeling alone. Many feel isolated, overwhelmed, uncertain, stressed as they try to work through courses that should be held in labs, lecture halls, or seminar rooms.
Those who stayed home find that they do not feel they are “in university” yet. The people around you do make a difference. Others have expressed that with graduation ceremonies being cancelled, those feelings of closure and moving on to university have been missed.
When I asked my friends to share their experience for this year for this article, some replied it was just too hard to say anything, I understand, as they too are trying to stay positive in this challenging time. For those who did share, their honesty is much appreciated. It takes a lot to share your feelings for all to read. Here are their thoughts on high school and university classes during COVID times.
Tannin Dridger-Bradshaw, Grade 9 at Holy Cross Catholic Secondary School:
“My first year of high school certainly isn’t how I had pictured it would be, but in saying that, it sure has been eventful.
“Being a student during this COVID pandemic has been very strange, with all the changes of how we attend school, but that doesn’t mean that it’s been a terrible experience. There have been many changes at high school, such as smaller class sizes, having to only attend school five out of every 10 days, with online homeschooling on the other days, and always having to wear face masks.
“It will take some getting used to, but I am determined to make it a positive experience. I’ll admit that the masks are very irritating, but it is important to take these precautions to keep myself as well as the other students and teachers safe.
“I am in Cohort A at Holy Cross, with half of the students in the school. We are only studying one subject at a time, for about four weeks, before changing to our next subject. For me personally, doing one class at a time and being in smaller classes has definitely made the change to high school easier.
“Even though I may not be with all of my friends from my old school of St. Michael (Catholic Elementary School in Niagara-on-the-Lake), this was a chance to create new friendships, and meet new people.
“Every student around the world has had to learn how to adapt to a whole new way of learning. I may have only been a high school student for less than a month, but I know that I will love it even with these restrictions.
“I have to agree with something that my high school teacher had said to my class, that while the COVID pandemic is horrific, there are changes that people such as teachers have only been able to make because of it. For example, using paper during school is very common, but extremely wasteful, however because of the COVID restrictions, teachers have had to make the curriculum online.
“This school year so far has been scary and difficult for everyone, but also different and new. I believe we have to make the best of a bad situation, even if it’s hard.”
Anonymous, Grade 11, DSBN honour roll student:
“I appreciate the anonymity.
“I am not a fan of the way our school board (DSBN) is handling the coronavirus situation. I much prefer the way the Niagara Catholic board is doing things. Having long periods of time dedicated to a single class is exhausting. I (speaking as humbly as I can) am a dedicated, hardworking, good student, but I am struggling like never before, and I’m not doing as well as I would normally.
“On top of the challenge school has become, it’s not even the safest way to do things. The Catholic board has you with the same group every day (for the designated block), while DSBN has you with three different groups, all with their own three different groups. I know it was a challenge to figure out how to combat the issue, but the fact that the other board managed to find a way that, in my opinion (all my friends agree), is way better, makes me feel a little less forgiving.
“I am a very positive person, so I don’t like speaking this way, but it’s truly heartbreaking that school, the thing I have always loved more than anything, is something that I now dread, and causes me nothing but stress.”
Janvi Ganatra, Grade 12, A.N. Myer Secondary School:
“With COVID cohorts for secondary schools, there is a fully online cohort and two cohorts with a mix of online and in-school learning for two to three days a week. We have two-week mini blocks where we concentrate on two (or three for Multi Subject Instructional Period (MSIP) schools) of our courses at a time, alternating every two weeks. “My school is an MSIP school, so we have five periods instead of four, four courses plus a study period called an MSIP. It’s less stressful not having to concentrate on all four courses at the same time, but with two-week mini blocks, it can be hard for teachers to cover an entire unit and assessments in a limited amount of time.
“This means sometimes we learn the content in one block and get tested on it two weeks later, which is not ideal.
“The in-school experience looks a lot different. Masks of course are mandatory, and we are expected to use hand sanitizer when entering or exiting the building and classrooms. Once we get to school we are required to go directly to class.
“Each day we are in one classroom for four hours, with two 10-minute breaks, all of the desks are two metres apart, and there is a fixed seating plan to help with COVID-contact tracing.
“Four hours in one classroom can definitely feel long, but with the short breaks in between, it works out well.
“I feel teachers have been doing a great job of finding ways to make it easier for students to learn online with recordings of lectures, notes and interactive online tools, as well as making accessing help outside of the classroom as convenient as possible, since we only see them twice a month.”