Maritime kids return to school amid mixture of apprehension and tempered optimism
HALIFAX -- Students across the Maritimes headed back to class Tuesday for the first time in about six months.
The first day of school had a different look to it as students posed for photos in their masks before lining up.
In Nova Scotia elementary schools, students will bubble inside their designated classroom for the entire day with their teacher and eat lunch there too.
Parents have mixed feelings, but are hopeful it will all work out.
"I'm a bit nervous, a bit excited, just like the kids are, maybe for opposite reasons," said parent Jack Mitchell. "Everyone is, I think, unsure of what it’ll look like, but we’re moving forward."
Another parent, Sarah Robinson, is less worried.
"I’m pretty confident in what they’re doing, where the schools have enough support for the masks and the distancing," Robinson said.
At high schools, masks must be worn at all times indoors when physical distancing isn’t possible.
Students say the morning was a little chaotic but as everyone adjusted, the day progressed smoothly.
"When I got here, they showed us videos, they gave us tips and they made sure everything was said, and we talked through it and they answered all our questions," said Grade 12 student Gabrielle Caya.
Caya says they need to wear masks while they’re learning because their desks are only a few feet apart.
She says at lunch time many students met with friends outdoors and masks are not required then.
"We are all in our little cliques, or socially distancing outside, there’s enough property on the school grounds to do so," Caya said.
The president of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union says a day that’s supposed to be filled with joy for so many was instead met with fears and concerns.
"Now, it’s left to teachers, as it always is, with the lack of resources and supports to try and make the best of a less-than-ideal situation but we care about kids and that’s what we’ll do," said NSTU president Paul Wozney.
The province says, since the COVID-19 situation remains fluid, it is prepared to move to a blended learning model or to a potential mix of both in-school and at-home learning should cases begin to climb.
Wozney anticipates concerns will rise over the coming days, as both students and teachers adjust to the new norm -- and an unusual school year.
In New Brunswick, not every student went back to school on Tuesday. School districts have staggered start times, so it was the first of several first days.
At Saint John High School, about 110 Grade 9 students made their return to the classroom Tuesday morning with each getting an orientation on the pandemic protocols that are in in place.
"We were just commenting on how empty the school is right now, because we only have half our Grade 9 students," said Principal Lori Wall. "So, right now we have our students who have last names who begin with A to K."
Saint John High School will see the other half of the Grade 9 students on Wednesday.
Students in Grades 10, 11 and 12 will arrive on Thursday and Friday, also divided by the alphabet.
It's a similar schedule for some schools in Anglophone West --- including Leo Hayes, Fredericton High and Oromocto High.
"That staggered entry just gives an opportunity for the school to welcome students at a lesser number and give them a greater opportunity to make that connection and to allow students to get reacquainted with the schools again after being away for six months," said David McTimoney, the superintendent for the Anglophone West School District.
It's an unprecedented school year that will see high schoolers attending school on a rotational basis and taking part in blended learning.
In K-to-8, students will be in classroom bubbles -- able to interact with each other and their teacher without physical distancing -- but they have to keep a distance of six feet from other students not in their group.
Still, there are mixed feelings among parents.
"You know, we're scared to send our kids," said Jeremy Robinson. "You see other countries and other provinces sending kids back to school and then the cases rising. I don't think there's a perfect solution to this, so I think it's just do our best at the moment."
Another parent, Shannon Phinney, is feeling more confident.
"Honestly, they've taken so many precautions that I feel safer being here than in a grocery store," Phinney said. "They have bubbles, they have to wear their masks in the hallway, where in a grocery store it's optional most of the time."
The province does have an outbreak management process in the event that there's a COVID-19 case confirmed within a school. They say they won't name those who test positive because of privacy concerns but public health will inform anyone who is at risk.