Although the weeks are dwindling until school breaks for the summer, many parents are saying they’d be happy for schools to open, even if just for a few weeks.
While many health officials across the province have said schools are safe, and could be reopened, so far the province has not seemed inclined to do so.
Amanda Gamble is one of those parents who hopes to see schools reopen, even for a short time. Working from home at a computer at two jobs, with her four-year-old daughter beside her attending Junior Kindergarten at Crossroads Public School virtually, has presented some challenges, she says.
Although she appreciates the time she and Evelyn get to spend together, and realizes how much harder it must be for older kids, she can’t help thinking her daughter would be better off with her friends at school. When Evelyn started JK, “she loved it,” says Gamble, “and she thrived. She misses it a lot.”
She got used to her teachers and students wearing masks, and playing in small groups of children — that became normal.
Online for kids that age can be difficult, and some days are better than others, says Gamble. It’s hard to motivate someone that young to sit at a computer for any length of time. If Evelyn spends an hour online, that’s about her limit. Teachers are trying to keep kids busy and having fun, but also are understanding if students aren’t spending as much time online as they’re supposed to be.
They also allow for play time, when kids can have fun with their friends — virtually. “It’s really cute hearing all the little voices talking to each other,” says Gamble.
She credits the teachers with their creativity and their efforts to keep students engaged, and says if they could go back to school for a couple of weeks, it might be difficult for teachers, but it would be great for the kids.
Crossroads teachers and the principal have also been good with connecting with parents and supporting them in any way they can, she says. “I get the sense they’re trying to do the very best they can, and that mental health is always the top priority for the kids. I also get the sense that they really care about the kids.”
Brenda Ferguson is a mom of three girls at St. Michael Catholic School. When school opened last September and parents had the choice between students attending classes or learning online, “we put our faith in St. Mike’s,” she says. “The school is wonderful, and we felt they would do what they had to do to keep our schools safe. Our girls definitely flourished being back at school.”
This last shutdown that began in April has been hard on the kids, and very confusing, she says, without any idea of what is happening in the future.
“It’s difficult to know what to say to the kids when they’re having a rough day.”
With five weeks left of school, Ferguson says she’d be happy to see them reopen. “I think right now kids are at a stage where it’s important for their mental health.”
Some kids have been staying at home for so long now, they are hesitant to go out anywhere, and that’s concerning, she says.
“I think even for three weeks, a little bit of normalcy would be beneficial. For my kids, the first day of school in September can be overwhelming, even though they’re happy to be back. I can’t imagine the transition of going from April to September. For some it could be extremely overwhelming.”
“The teachers are trying so hard, and they’re doing a phenomenal job, doing everything they can to keep things exciting, with all the fun classes, like gym, art and library, trying to keep kids engaged. These poor teachers, trying to keep everyone calm, when the kids are so easily distracted by whatever is going on around them. I’m sure these teachers never thought they’d be spending their days on a computer, on a screen. I don’t think any of them signed up for this, but they’re doing everything they can to make it work. And they tell us the same, ‘do whatever you can do. That’s all we can hope for.’ I feel like we’re all in this together.”
St. Michael principal Janice Barretto-Mendonca agrees that, “not in any way, shape or form is online learning ideal.”
Teachers have done so well in making the transition, and rising to the challenges before them, but for kids, spending a day online remains difficult.
“We want the kids in front of us,” she says.
It’s been challenging for all, she adds, with so many changes and teachers having to constantly learn something new, often on the fly, “but overall, we’re plodding through.”
She says she would welcome an opportunity to be back in school before the end of the year. “It would be rejuvenating for all of is, knowing the kids were here, under our care,” even for a short time.
Mental health is not measurable, but is such a key factor during this time, she adds.
“That’s why they need to be here.”