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Students return to in-person schooling

Rapid test kits are being distributed and parents are receiving guidance, but is it enough?

St. James High School in Port aux Basques. – © File photo

By Ryan King

Community News Reporter

PORT AUX BASQUES – Today was set as the initial target date by the Departments of Education and Health and Community Services (EHCS) for the return to in-person classes for the Newfoundland English and French School Districts (NLEFSD). As a part of the return to regular classroom learning plan, the province began the roll out of rapid self-test kits to schools on Wednesday Jan. 19. On Thursday, Jan. 20 the province advised that children would return to in-person learning one day later than anticipated, on Tuesday, Jan. 25.

Before the students and staff can return to school, they will be required to take two of the tests at home, with 72 hours needed between each test before the return to class.

Residents were given a kit containing five rapid self-tests and instructions on how to proceed if a test result proves positive. Further information is available on the provincial government website at https://www.gov.nl.ca/covid-19/

But the province has taken steps to keep the school environment safe for the 2021-22 school year.

Air purification and filtration systems were installed in every classroom and common room in schools. A mandatory vaccination policy was introduced for teachers and staff. Children aged 12 to 19 have a 93 per cent fully vaccinated rate, and 75 per cent of children aged 5 to 11 have received one dose of the vaccine. Additionally, all schools have access to free public health approved masks and face shields.

Online learning has been a challenge for both teachers and students alike, with some adapting better than others. Jackie Walters says that while her daughter Maci enjoyed online learning, she did miss socializing.

“She loves it! But misses her friends. She’s in Grade 3. Luckily for Maci, she is able to grasp new things quickly so she doesn’t need the extra help.”

Since her daughter valued the social element that school provided, Walters came up with other ways to keep her daughter happy during the lockdown.

“Since the beginning of the pandemic I have made sure to include people in our bubble that have children. So she’s had some interactions with children. I have made an outdoor ice rink for some winter activity as well.”

While Maci does well remote learning, Walters believes that the amount of screen time could be increased.

“In her case I think she’s fine as she’s a bit ahead of the game anyhow, but they are currently only doing math and reading so the other subjects would be falling behind. She’s also only doing 1 hour a day which I feel they could increase that no problem.”

If anything, remote learning has been somewhat more of a challenge for Walters since she works during the usual school hours.

“It’s a struggle as I work 8:00 a.m.. to 4:30 p.m. Luckily my employer has been extremely accommodating and I’ve been working from home for a few weeks. My parents live in town, but with this variant of COVID I have had to avoid having them care for her for me.”

Walters has some concerns about the return to in-school learning.

“I don’t feel comfortable doing a rapid test on myself or my daughter. As contagious as this variant is, I feel it’s just not a good idea. I also have friends with children with different needs and I have no idea how they will ever get their child to co-operate to do a rapid test on them. I want her back to school, no doubt, but I feel it’s too soon. The case numbers are going down province wide but likely because they are no longer testing symptomatic close contacts,” said Walters. “I also feel a lot of parents won’t do the testing for the same reasons.”

Brittany Gaudet has two children that will be returning to the classroom. One of her daughters, Cali, is seven years old and in Grade 2. Her other daughter is Jersey, who is five years old and is in kinderstart. Cali also missed the socialization aspect.

“She is absolutely missing in-person class like crazy! To say she needs the social aspect of the classroom would be an understatement. She enjoys seeing her class online but wishes it was the full class as they have to be split to accommodate everyone. We appreciate so much of what the teachers have done to help keep our kids learning, but we absolutely prefer in-person learning for so many reasons!”

Gaudet said Cali’s grades have been affected by online learning.

“Like most parents I am swamped, so to add teaching to my day is hard. We manage but it certainly isn’t easy, and with most kids they don’t want to learn from us parents, so they struggle to have patience and structure to navigate through this. My daughter struggles with reading and, although the school is accommodating that as best they can, she is still not getting adequate instruction to help her with it.”

Also Jersey did not get to attend kinderstart as is the norm.

“My youngest daughter has only managed to have one kinderstart session, which although it only happens four times a year, has impacted how she will adapt to being in full time class next year.”

Gaudet worries about the social impact it has had on her children.

“My kids are very social, so to not be able to be in an environment they love is a struggle. Kids thrive when they’re with their peers and in a structured place. The teachers work so hard to have daily routines that our kids are now lacking, which we can see they struggle with this by not being able to be in the classroom. They’re unable to bounce ideas off their friends for their writing or seeing how others figure out and solve social questions that then boost their confidence to answer questions as well.”

Having her children learn from home has also affected Gaudet.

“Learning from home as a parent leaves me feeling completely defeated when I’m unable to answer the questions my child has regarding her lessons. Math isn’t the same for her as it was for me numerous years ago. It’s really disheartening as we only want our kids to do well. The teachers provide us with all they are able to, but as a parent we’re just not able to devote our full day to the education like they deserve.”

While learning at home has presented some challenges, Gaudet also has some concerns regarding the return to the classroom.

“We’ve been pondering the thought of do we send Cali to in-person class if it goes ahead or do we keep her home? No doubt it’s a very scary time, but what’s scarier is her learning suffering. We do our best but it is so difficult. I don’t know about all parents but for us Cali doesn’t want to do all kinds of stuff with us after her one hour of school daily. She finds it confusing and truly as do I. We’re swamped as it is and with her doing in-person schooling. I know she is getting the best education they can give her during these unprecedented times, and I don’t have to worry that she’s lacking if it was online, and I was the one in charge of keeping it all together, but I do worry in the COVID sense. So this is where I guess we make the decision to put trust in other parents to do their due diligence to not just send your child if they have ANY symptoms just because you’re lacking childcare for your job, just because you need a break from their attitudes (believe me we all know the kids have them from no socialization). Please keep your child home if they even have the sniffles. These are hard times for us all and they will continue to be hard if we do not follow the protocol and rules put in place for a reason: for our safety.”

In the end, Gaudet says the community needs to work together to ensure everyone’s child remains safe.

“It takes a village to make these things work. Our kids deserve to go to school in a healthy safe environment, but it takes us as their parents to make that happen with the tools and resources given. Hold fast parents. We got this.”

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