TORONTO - This year has been one like no other, especially for the drawn out, staggered start dates for students across Ontario.
Last week, the Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB) completed “Orientation week” for students returning to “in-class learning”.
I interviewed Irene, a grade 10 student attending a Toronto Catholic high school for her perspective on the exercise.
After six months of being away from her school environment, Irene was filled with excitement, anticipation and, understandably, some apprehension awaiting her first day back last Wednesday.
Like many other students, she had not seen her teachers nor fellow classmates in over six months. Not knowing exactly what to expect the first day back caused her some anxiety. Irene, who likes to be prepared, only received notification from her school Tuesday evening as to which doors she was to present herself the following day.
On arriving at school Wednesday morning, mask on, she found the grounds full of energy as fellow classmates enthusiastically greeted one another. All the while, teachers dutifully separated groups, reminding students to maintain proper physical distance.
Once she located the assigned entry door and lined up behind the pylon, six feet apart, a teacher came to greet them. Feeling as if playing a game of “follow the leader”, Irene, along with the other students entered single file through the doors.
Each student was met by another teacher offering the now standard hand sanitizer. The teacher, for the day, led the group of eight to an area of the school (drama room) where they were instructed to stand/sit in their “physical distanced” square, marked on the floor. That is where they remained for the next two and a half hours.
Irene commented, “it was so uncomfortable sitting on the floor. My legs kept falling asleep.” When time arrived for the scheduled bathroom break, all the students (whether the urge presented itself or not) had to walk to the assigned bathroom. A “bathroom monitor” stationed outside the door would supervise how many were permitted in as the others waited their turn in line.
Throughout the time in class, there was no formal lesson, just a rundown of the Covid-19 protocols (how to properly wash your hands, wear face masks and keep a safe distance) “stuff everyone already knew”. There was some discussion of “current events” documented over the past six months, and that’s it , she said.
When I asked her impression of the first week of school, Irene replied, “I’m disappointed. It felt like we were being baby-sat. Going back to school, I want to learn. I have no course calendar, no assigned subjects, I don’t even know which teachers I’ll have or what I’m supposed to be doing for the online portion.”
She later told me she was happy to receive a call late Friday from her teacher. She now has some direction for Monday’s online session.
Over the course of the last few weeks, we have heard the protests from teachers arguing that they are just “not ready”. While classroom sizes and proper physical distancing still remain an issue for some, many parents and students across the Board remain confused over virtual learning.
Ready-ornot, today marks the day that all TCDSB students are officially back at school, whether in-person or “remotely”.
Without having any prior knowledge to the disruption occurring at the board level dealing with code of conduct and conflict of interest issues among some trustees, Irene describes her back to school experience as “dysfunctional and unproductive”. Given the current circumstances, these are two seemingly appropriate sentiments.
Overall, not the most promising start to a new academic year for an eager mind willing to learn.