Amidst excitement and concern, we are headed back to brick and mortar school. There are many questions that still need to be answered – and so many unknowns – but, ready or not…
By Justyna Jaroma
The commencement of the 2020-21 school year is just around the corner and it is guaranteed to be a year like no other. With the Coronavirus still circulating and cases rising day by day, Notre Dame must prepare for a safe return. Mr. DesLauriers, our principal, sent out an extensive email on August 20th explaining the basic layout of the new academic schedule and safety protocols. I am beyond excited to be at physical school and interact with my peers after seven months, although I do have a few concerns (and I’m sure I’m not the only one).
Since the BC Ministry of Education permits cohorts of up to 120 high school students, grade levels will be placed under differing timetables. As a result of this, the Notre Dame Administration implemented a Quadmester learning system, which allows the study of two academic courses per 10 week-semester.
As a senior student, I am in a position to take this new structure as a learning curve. The majority of my peers and I plan on attending post-secondary schools, where the learning is arranged into two semesters, ultimately giving senior students a taste of what it will be like focusing on a few subjects in shorter amounts of time. We will be able to experience systematic learning with larger loads of school material amidst quicker deadlines.
In addition, the class time has risen from the usual 80-minute blocks to 2.5 hours. Being an impatient and fidgety person, sitting in one seat for 80 minutes already drove me crazy. This new schedule will likely be exhausting and therefore distracting. We are now given between 35 and 40 classes to cover a whole course that would usually be completed over 10 months.
This is a drastic change to the schedule and new to Notre Dame, yet due to the current circumstances, I believe that this is a smart alternative. Additionally, each Wednesday will be a (Flex Day), meaning students are to join briefer zoom calls and/or participate in extra help opportunities from home. I am very satisfied with this adaptation, as it gives students time to rest and catch up on assignments from home. This was something that went on during the online school sessions of the last school year and was extremely beneficial to both teachers and students. Of course, the main purpose of these flex days is to allow the janitors ample time to deep clean the school.
Amongst the excitement of going back to school and finally seeing each other after many months apart, we still have many questions: what kind of safety protocols or measures will be applied when someone contracts Covid-19? what will social life at school look like? how long until there’s an outbreak, and we move to online again? what will happen to extracurricular activities, teams and clubs? and finally, will bullying increase or decrease?
As noted in the email, each student will receive a forehead temperature check before entering the building and must also complete an online check-in form once a week. Students must arrive in a face mask and will be able to remove them once notified. Masks will be mandatory in open spaces such as hallways and washrooms, as well as rooms of multi-class interaction.
September calls for the beginning of the annual flu season. Inevitably, if a student or staff member were to have a fever, cough, or trouble breathing, they would have to report these symptoms to the office. Ultimately, the symptoms would have to be announced to students in their learning group, leading to collective panic. As a result, many parents would wish for their children to remain at home in order to prevent possible contraction.
Still, more questions arise. For example, how many cases are enough to fully transfer students from in-class sessions to an online school setting? Will Notre Dame wait for the ruling and suggestion of the BC Education Ministry, or is there a number that will determine whether or not live school sessions proceed? If an online return is necessary, will Zoom calls last 2 hours 30 minutes as well?
Notre Dame provides many extracurricular opportunities each school year; whether it be sports teams, academic and artistic clubs, or volunteering organizations, there’s something for almost everyone. Since the shift to distance learning, many events were cancelled and these groups were put to a temporary halt. September is the time that teams, clubs, and organizations gather and call for fresh members, but how will this work? I’m sure that each leader will have a form of communication with participants, although what will happen to the events that they prepare for? Which clubs will be fully capable of respecting a new protocol — outside of The Observer — as they tend to include different grade levels? Academic clubs may proceed online, yet are we to assume that there will be no sports teams this year? Will the choir sing in public anytime soon?
An important thought to be aware of in this back to school scenario is the re-emergence of bullying. After all the time apart, have we grown out of the practice of making racist remarks in relation to the Coronavirus? If someone contracts the virus, will they be made fun of and how will they respond? The hope is that bullies will return in a better light, and better educated after 7 months, and realize their faults from the past.
As a grade 12 student, I am a little devastated. Everyone dreams of a perfect senior year filled with football games, school dances, and senior pranks. It is the year our parents tell us was the ‘best year’ of their lives. We want to experience the hierarchy of being in grade 12: revered by the younger grades, and more leeway afforded and respect given from teachers as past graduates have. It’s sad to say, but we will most likely be stripped of many exciting moments throughout the year like the Camp Evans retreat, dressing up for Halloween, and the Christmas Concert.
Surely, there is no one to blame, and it’s easy to be disappointed; however, it is my hope that we will receive safe, fun alternatives so that seniors can somehow enjoy our final year.