British Columbia

2 weeks in, a mix of relief and anxiety over B.C. kids' return to school

Parents, children and teachers are reporting mixed experiences with how the return to in-class learning has gone so far. One thing most can agree on is that it's been a teachable moment for everyone, with hints of what may come this fall. 

Parents, children and teachers say in-class learning has brought some relief but also some stress

About a third of B.C. schoolchildren have returned to school for in-class instruction. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

East Vancouver parent Christa Wagner was a bit hesitant to send her twin eight-year-old boys back to school after being off since March break due to the pandemic, but she can't argue with the results. 

"Obviously it's a little bit different, but honestly they loved it. They had so much fun," Wagner said. 

The boys are back in class for two full days a week. Normally they share their teacher with 23 other children, but since they've been back at their school, St. Francis of Assisi, classrooms are limited to only eight students.

"It's been fantastic," Wagner said. "The school has done an amazing job."

In March, the provincial government shut down schools to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19. 

Starting June 1, elementary students could return for 50 per cent in-class instruction, while middle and secondary school children were limited to one day a week. Children of essential-service workers and those needing additional supports have been able to attend full-time.

For kids who have returned to school, many new precautions have been put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The province says less than a third have returned with more children in elementary school and fewer in secondary school. Numbers also vary from school to school, the province says, and class to class.

Parents, children and teachers are reporting mixed experiences with how that shift has gone so far. One thing that most agree on is that it's been a teachable moment for everyone, with hints of what may come this fall. 

Back to routines

Some parents say the routine and structure of school has been helpful for their kids. 

Rae-Anne Schneider, whose 15-year-old daughter Neve has Trisomy 9 Mosaic, a rare chromosomal disorder that causes physical and cognitive impairments, says her daughter's been glad to return to school full-time. 

"Without the routine it's really difficult for her," Schneider said. "Behaviorally, that gets challenging."

Rae-Anne Schneider says her 15-year-old daughter Neve returning to school has been good for both of them. (Courtesy of Rae-Anne Schneider)

Schneider has been off work for the past couple of months to care for Neve full-time.

As the parent of a child with complex needs, she had support available, but was concerned about the risk of her daughter catching the coronavirus because her immune system is compromised. 

When schools opened up again, she felt it was time for Neve to go back.

"I love her to death, but I think sometimes it's good that we get a little break from each other," she said.  

Annoying siblings

For many children who have returned to school, the best part has been reconnecting with their friends and teachers.

"I was really happy to see my friends again and it was easier to work when my brothers weren't annoying," said Lord Selkirk student Oscar Needoba.

In school, children like Oscar have faced what will likely be the new normal for months to come. 

Many students say the best part of returning to school has been seeing their friends. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Teachers wearing masks, lines painted on the ground to enforce social distancing and desks pushed apart in classrooms are just some measures schools have put in place.

Despite those precautions, many parents say the risks are still too great for their kids to return to school. 

Losing interest in online learning

Like the majority of parents in B.C., Vancouver mother Victoria Harper chose to keep her twin 10-year-old girls at home. One of them has asthma, she says, and the other was terrified of catching the coronavirus.

"It was such an emotional decision," Harper said. 

Neither Amira Harper, left nor her sister Aiyana, right, have returned to school for in-class instruction. (Victoria Harper)

Life at home, Harper says, has been a surprisingly enjoyable change from the fast pace of pre-COVID life when the family juggled cooking classes, badminton lessons and swimming.

But schooling at home and over the Internet has become a challenge.

"Both of them are at the point where they don't even want to do online schooling right now," she said. "They're just losing interest."

Luckily for Harper, the end is in sight as most classes break for summer on June 25.

Teachers too have had some relief with the return to in-class instruction, but also new challenges.

'Labour intensive and not sustainable'

Terri Mooring, president of the B.C. Teachers Federation, says many teachers say they're glad to see their students again. The new safety protocols were strange for teachers and students alike at first, Mooring says, but everyone has adapted quickly.

The biggest issue Mooring says she is hearing from teachers is that with some students back and others still at home, teachers are doing double duty preparing two types of instruction for the same class. 

"It's been incredibly labour intensive and not sustainable," Mooring said. "Their workloads have exponentially increased."

The BCTF says teachers have been doing double duty preparing both online and in-person classes for their students. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Mooring says it will be important for planning to take place this summer to help teachers better manage their course loads and work schedules. 

Like education and school officials, Mooring doesn't yet know what September will bring in terms of in-class instruction. She thinks there will continue to be a mix of online and in-person learning, but she's hopeful conditions for teachers will improve.

"We anticipate that things will be better than they are right now," she said. 

About the Author

Maryse Zeidler

@MaryseZeidler

Maryse Zeidler is a reporter for CBC News in Vancouver, covering news from across British Columbia. You can reach her at maryse.zeidler@cbc.ca.

With files from Margaret Gallagher and The Canadian Press

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