Parents, teachers give return-to-school mixed grades as COVID-19 rages on

Parents, teachers give return-to-school mixed grades as COVID-19 rages on

After a year of COVID-19 outbreaks shuttered Canadian schools, kids are back in the classrooms. Or, at least, most kids are. Some parents have opted to continue online learning, creating a hybrid curriculum for children in certain parts of the country.

Some parents are overjoyed.

“They are like different people,” Toronto mother Naomi Braunstein says of her three children, who are in Grades 5, 7 and 10. “They’ve missed (seeing their friends) so much that they’re willing to even do the work. They’re just so thrilled to be back.”

Unable to see friends, visit playgrounds or do other typical summer activities like camp, Braunstein says one of her sons became so depressed she had to call the hospital, while her other children got stuck in ruts at home and became withdrawn.

“They were really like caged prisoners,” she says. Now, Braunstein says they have routines again. They have lunch with their friends and “are just so happy to be back.”

But some teachers say the process is “overwhelming,” creating an overload of work for educators already working in an underfunded institution amid a pandemic that has left many younger children socially underdeveloped and behind in their learning.

“Teachers are faced with a very close to impossible task of monitoring and helping the students in class while also helping the students online,” said Leslie Jones-Lissack, who teaches first grade at Silver Pines Public School in Richmond Hill, Ont. “It’s just not working.”

Schools reopened across many provinces in September. While many have opted for a return to in-person learning, Silver Pines developed a hybrid back-to-school session where kids can sign on and learn from home.

Jones-Lissack teaches a “homeroom” class, meaning a little bit of every subject, from English to Physical Education. She’s been teaching for 20 years, but insists that this year is “definitely the hardest year yet.”

“I wear a mask all day. I have a face shield when I have to be close to my students and we’re constantly sanitizing,” she says.

However, “there’s always that low-level anxiety of being in a public place with people who are unvaccinated.”

At Silver Pines, Jones-Lissack teaches 15 kids in-person and three online. The latter she observes from a laptop with a web camera that is pointed at her while she guides the class.

This sounds easier than it is, Jones-Lissack says. Kids who are learning online can’t participate in certain class activities throughout the day.
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