TORONTO - Normally, the return to school is an exciting time of year for students and parents alike. September marks the start of a new academic year and students are filled with anticipation of new experiences and learning opportunities. Parents, usually delighted, send their children out of the house and into the classroom to broaden their minds, make friends and develop skills necessary to further their education.
However, this year, feelings of anxiety and apprehension replace those of excitement and delight. The Covid-19 pandemic has created a challenge for many, especially those in the educational system. To stem the spread of the virus, schools were ordered closed (mid-March) and classrooms have stood empty for nearly six months. Now, just days before the resumption of in-class learning, students, parents, and staff still do not know what to expect.
School boards across the province have been “working on” and adapting “back to school” plans based on new information received by medical experts, the ministry of education, staff, families, and other parties involved. The Toronto Catholic School Board (TCDSB) is one such board still sorting out the details.
On Monday evening, Mary Ward Catholic Secondary School (MWCSS) in Scarborough held a virtual meeting for parents and guardians to discuss the roll out of the back to school plan. In a school with more than one thousand students, the meeting was “attended” by some 200+ participants.
What is unique about MWCSS, is that it is one of the few schools in Canada that offer a self-directed learning platform. The individualized program is designed for students to take leadership in their academic environment and promote decision-making, communication and collaboration while enriching their Catholic values.
Furthermore, the success of the program relies, in great part, on the Teacher Advisor (TA)/Advisee relationship. Students build rapport with their TA, who monitor their progress and serve as a mentor.
Unfortunately, for students who may participate in distance learning in September, the personalized self-directed platform will not be available to them.
In fact, the latest plans released by the school indicate that distance learning will revert to a more conventional approach with no element of the self-directed option.
Perhaps it is just another casualty in the Covid-19 pandemic. Some parents at the virtual town hall wondered if “planning” is the victim.
Tragically, Ontario has registered 2,811 deaths related to the virus (September 1). Only one victim was under the age of nineteen. And, sadly, that death was a Toronto resident. Critics may argue that a level of fear and paranoia have taken over and has perhaps clouded the bigger picture.
To illustrate that point, of the 16,044 confirmed positive cases in Toronto, 1,082 are aged nineteen or younger, (6.8%). The rate of fatality for anyone in that age group is 0.006% of all confirmed positive cases in Toronto. There is no consolation in that rate for the parents of that child.
However, the experience of that child and that family may be the determining factor parents will consider when making their final decision, as to whether or not their children will join their fellow classmates at school.
For better or for worse, Premier Ford fed into that uncertainty when he said he would shut the system down if there is another outbreak.