Local teachers and students are worried this week as schools resume online only instruction following Spring Break.
Ontario Minister of Education Stephen Lecce announced that following last week’s Spring Break students would be learning from home indefinitely to help stop the spread of the Covid-19 virus. Spring Break had been moved from its traditional March time slot earlier in the year as a way of keeping people from travelling to Covid hotspots.
Colleen Willard-Holt, a professor in the Faculty of Education at Wilfrid Laurier University, said learning from home is necessary to help keep people safe, but it can lead to higher instances of stress and depression in both students and teachers.
“Typical stress relieving activities are not available for students. There’s boredom and pent- up energy that can’t be released,” she said. “I think that some of the students are also feeling stress about being behind in their school work. They feel like they’re missing out on things that they would have learned and they don’t really see a way to make that up.”
Willard-Holt says missing things in lower elementary grades might not have a long-term detrimental effect on students, but she worries more for high school students who might feel like they’re falling behind.
“It’s more impactful for those in high school than those in elementary. In elementary school it might not have as big an impact on them, but all of the kids are going to be at a similar disadvantage. It’s more the high school experience that may have a longer term impact,” she said. “I know we always feel for those students that graduated Grade 12 last year… and this year is looking like it’s going to be much the same. That’s a part of growing up that’s hard to miss.”
Missing those moments is high on Kieran Schmidt’s mind as the 13-year-old prepares to graduate Grade 8 at St. Jacobs Public School.
Schmidt says that for her and her fellow students, graduation is one of the only topics of discussion lately.
“Our graduation. That’s literally all people have been talking about this month. Like they’re getting all their grad outfits and there’re so many different ideas of how it will end up. And we’re just worried that we won’t have any kind of celebration or we will, but it won’t be safe,” she said.
Schmidt says the celebrations are important to students like her that will be going to a different high school than her friends next year — she has been accepted in the Integrated Arts Program at Eastwood Collegiate — and other students who have been together for eight years now.
“My friends really want a graduation, especially some of my friends that have been at this school for their whole lives. My friend Nora had been here since kindergarten and there’s the possibility of her leaving without a graduation,” she said.
Schmidt’s mother, Joanna Pearce, is a stay-at-home parent helping with schooling for three children. She says she doesn’t know how she would handle the situation if she were working as well.
“Vaughn (her youngest) is learning, but I feel like he’d be getting more out of being in school for sure. Group work on the computer is not the same as group work at school,” she said. “If I wasn’t at home he would be totally sunk. I have to be in the room with him. If I was trying to be working from home or something, it would be tough.”
Pearce says she hasn’t really had a moment to herself since the pandemic began.
“I think that for me, there was a point many months into the pandemic where I said ‘I haven’t been alone in 8 months,’” she said. “I love my kids and I want to be around them, but sometimes you need a break or you need to be by yourself.”
Schmidt says despite the constant interaction with her family at home, online learning has left her lonely sometimes and missing her friends.
“We only have a little bit of time together before we have to leave, so it sucks that it’s only going to be on computer before we have to leave school,” she said.
“It’s a really hard time for teachers too, with none of us being able to go out,” Willard-Holt said. “It’s very difficult for me as a teacher to get to know my students because they show up as black boxes on the screen. When they do a group activity it’s very awkward. They’re just missing a whole part that is so much of what they do in school.”
Schmidt says her classes are using the video chats to help relieve some of that stress by doing fun things.
“We’ve been changing our pictures to silly things and that makes them laugh and it was fun,” she said. “There have been a few fun things, but it would be much better to be in person. We’re trying to find things to make it more fun. That’s kind of our goal right now.”
Written by Elizabeth Bate