With most COVID-19 protocols largely removed from schools this fall, students from kindergarten through Grade 12 are filing into classrooms that are much more reminiscent of pre-pandemic times. Students, parents and teachers tell us about the first day of school, share what’s on their minds and tell us what they’re looking forward to this coming year.
Charlotte Tremblay and Mavis Top, Ottawa
Charlotte Tremblay was nervous about the first day of Grade 12 on Tuesday morning because “a lot of the future hinges on how well we do this year.” Still, the Ottawa student was happy to reunite with friends and about the prospect of a “normal” term after the confusing experience with condensed pandemic schedules.
“We had quad-mesters for a while and then we had two classes a week and that kept switching. Now we’re back to four classes. I’m definitely glad we’re back to kind of a normal schedule,” said the 17-year-old.
Though she and her friends hadn’t planned it, they all arrived wearing masks and aim to stay cautious in the absence of earlier pandemic protocols. For instance, the teens talked about having lunch outdoors, said fellow Grade 12 student Mavis Top, “just ’cause it’s the time where you do have to take your masks off.”
When her family got COVID-19 this summer, Top said it opened her eyes to how differently the illness can affect members of the same household. “I think COVID needs to be taken a bit more seriously by everyone.”
Katie Yu, Iqaluit
Tuesday was busy for Iqaluit student Katie Yu, who said her packed class schedule ranged from “intense” courses, like biology and math, to subjects deemed “more fun,” like band and choir.
Aside from academic achievement, the science-loving Grade 11 student plans to fill up her personal calendar, too: extracurricular activities, volunteer opportunities, time with friends, artistic hobbies and skiing, plus a newfound interest in running.
Yu is also planning to get her driver’s licence, looking forward to a school trip to Europe next spring and a part-time job may join the mix.
“I want to do well in my classes, but … I do want to maintain sort of a balance — especially with my social life and extracurriculars, now that there’s more of them back,” the 16-year-old said.
“In Nunavut, some people might see … [fewer] opportunities than, you know, southern Ontario, for example. But there is a lot to contribute to the community and personal hobbies you can get into.”
Subashini Thangadurai, Calgary
“Getting back to normal” was a common theme woven through Subashini Thangadurai’s first two days of school.
Last Thursday and Friday were filled with the smiling faces of friends, seeing classmates more comfortable gathering at a school-opening assembly and enthusiasm from teachers, said the Grade 11 student. More clubs, extra-curricular activities and events returning are what she’s personally most excited about — and what she’s heard from peers as well.
“I’m just really excited to get Earth Club going.… I think there’s just going to be so much more student involvement this year. I feel like people just really want to be a part of something,” noted the 16-year-old, who thinks the pandemic helped build a greater feeling of community in her Calgary school.
Despite feeling some first-day jitters, Thangadurai said she’s “comfortable in the new environment” of fewer restrictions, though she says students are navigating an odd cultural shift after the masking, changing guidelines and unpredictability of the past few years.
“COVID’s always just a bit of a worry, like it’s always going to still be there. I think a lot of my peers feel that, too.”
Aysha Yaqoob, Regina
For Aysha Yaqoob, preparing for previous school years typically involved course outlines, expectation documents and get-to-know-you handouts. This year, the high school English teacher started by building and rekindling connections with her students and emphasizing student mental health — ensuring students know that they are a priority for her and for their Regina school.
“The last few years of school have been tough for so many students, and staff as well, and so I’m really just focusing on bringing joy back into our classroom,” she said last Thursday, shortly after the end-of-day bell rang on students’ first day of classes.
Though Yaqoob remains a bit nervous about keeping her students healthy and safe this year, she feels comfortable with the slate of measures already familiar to educators, including masking when needed, distancing “as best I can” and keeping good hand hygiene, she noted.
“It’s day one right now: I know there’s a lot of energy, a lot of adrenaline running through everybody’s bodies, but there’s a little bit of, like, anxiety and being nervous as well [from some students],” Yaqoob acknowledged.
“It’s just kind of helping balance students [to] feel safe in the space and shift back, kind of, into the routine of things pre-pandemic.”
Marilyn Bosnjak, Mississauga, Ont.
Though her students are younger, that notion of creating a safe, welcoming space on the first day was also top of mind for Grade 5 teacher Marilyn Bosnjak Tuesday morning.
She planned to get started with a community circle to get students talking: about their summers, what they’re looking forward to and even what they may be nervous about.
“Some kids were maybe wearing masks last year. Some kids have been online and now are coming back here, so it’s just making sure they’re OK, that they feel safe in my environment and that they’re just happy to be here,” said the Mississauga, Ont., teacher.
Diana Dacosta, Montreal
Diana Dacosta and her daughter, Alycia, felt a bit anxious about the youngster starting Grade 1 on Aug. 26. The six-year-old would be joining “the big kids” at recess versus staying in the kindergarten zone. Also a concern? The youngster’s best friends were in other classrooms.
The Montreal parent felt some relief when Alycia later recounted her successful first day.
“She told me she had new friends [and] that she still plays with her old friends in the schoolyard, so I was a bit less worried,” said Dacosta. “She’s all happy because she’s a big girl.”
The mom of two is hoping this new school year “will be under control more than it was last year” and wants sudden shifts to learning at home to be a thing of the past. At this point, she’s feeling good, due to clear communication with the school.
“When I send [school staff an] email, I know I’ll have an answer in the next hour. And so I’m pretty confident it’s going to be a good year,” Dacosta said.
Jay Harris, Ottawa
Jay Harris thinks it will be an exciting school year for his kids, with socialization “super important” to the Ottawa parent, whose family recently moved to the city.
“The idea of getting back socially — learning how to socialize again [after] being so restricted for so long — I think that’s going to be a major change for them and hopefully a good one,” he said as he dropped off his teens for their first day of school Tuesday morning.
“Stop texting each other. Start talking to each other.”
Abishek Prasath, Regina
Starting Grade 9 in person had Abishek Prasath brimming with enthusiasm and optimism last Thursday, given the periods of online schooling the 14-year-old has experienced since his family moved to Canada from Qatar back in 2020, early on in the pandemic.
Despite having a touch of nerves on his first day of high school, “I want to be around people and people want to be around me, because I kind of joke around,” he explained. “[Remote learning] doesn’t work for me. So coming here, back to school, everything is so amazing.”
The sunny teen’s game plan this year includes making new friends, getting good grades and “to embrace the high school journey,” including checking out the robotics club and trying out for the badminton and volleyball teams.
“I’m trying to embrace it fully and enjoy the journey.”
Jasmin Codiaman, Edmonton
Ezayah Codiaman was bubbly and excited while waiting to file into his Edmonton school, and to start kindergarten, for the first time last Wednesday.
The five-year-old’s mother, Jasmin Codiaman, said her own excitement about the milestone moment was tinged with thoughts of how quickly time has passed.
“It’s like he was just a baby — and now he’s going to school. So that’s what I’m thinking, right now,” she said as they queued alongside other students and parents in the schoolyard.
Andrea Bove, Montreal
Standing in a noisy Montreal schoolyard last Tuesday morning, Andrea Bove was in high spirits just like the students around her.
“I’m excited for things to go back to normal — to be able to see the kids’ faces, for the kids to be able to see my face — and just to have all the regular scheduled activities and trips and everything. We’re excited to be back, 100 per cent,” said the Grade 6 French teacher.
“We still are taking precautions, obviously. I think COVID really marked us all,” she added, before hurrying to join the students filing into the building for their first day.
“We’re doing the best that we can … [students] want to have fun and we’re gonna do our best to make school safe and fun for them.”