British Columbia

High school hopes: B.C. teens share their dreams and fears as they return to class

Three B.C. teens voice their concerns about returning to the classroom in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

How will COVID-19 affect social lives, course choices, career paths?

Over half a million children, teachers, educators and support workers, went back to class in B.C. last week for the first time since March. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

By spring break, Erik Floyd and his fellow students in the theatre class at Burnett Secondary School in Richmond, B.C., were working on the second act of the musical You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown when the pandemic struck and production halted for good.

"It was such a bummer because I have always wanted to be in a musical," Erik said. "It was within grasp and then it didn't happen."

Despite his passion for the arts, Erik aspires to be an engineer. For the past two summers, he's taken extra classes to get ahead in math. But as much as he enjoys math, a school year without theatre wouldn't be the same.

"Engineering is my dream job but acting is my passion," he said. 

Erik's theatre elective is not your average course, it is a year-long commitment. People pay to see their shows. Now, as he enters Grade 12, he's worried about the plan to shorten the theatre program — and it's not going over well with his friends either.

"Everyone just kinda freaked out for a minute," he said. "Ten weeks is not enough time to put on a play." 

Everyone just kinda freaked out for a minute.- Erik Floyd, Grade 12

There's also the experiment of how to safely stage a play during COVID-19. Erik caught word his drama teacher is scheming a new model: a radio play. 

"The second I read the words 'radio drama,' my heart skipped a beat," said Erik. "I love the idea of voice acting."

So with those expectations, Erik will head into this unpredictable academic year holding his breath that he'll get one last crack at a high-school drama performance.

"If something similar happens this year, where the theatre company doesn't happen, I will be devastated."

To hear Erik Floyd voice his concerns about going back to class, tap here.

Alison Awram fears the cohort system will cut her off from her friends. (Submitted by Alison Awram)

Social concerns

For Alison Awram, it's not COVID-19 or academics that tops her list of concerns —  it's the social life at Abbotsford Christian School. 

Alison describes herself as "awkward" and "different" and says she's not like other girls. The Grade 10 student says the COVID cohort system — in which high schools are split into groups of up to 120 students to aid physical distancing — will make things worse by cutting her off from the few friends she has.

"I usually keep my headphones in, reading a book anyway," she said. 

A lot of Alison's classmates had gone to school together since elementary school. When she joined the school, everyone already knew where they fit in and had "their niches."

If high school can be divided into two groups of people, the "popular people" and "outcast people," Alison knows where she fits. 

"I have friends who only listen to Christian [music] artists, and I'm here listening to Nirvana, which is my most recent interest," she said. "A lot of times these kids are, how do I say this, 'sheltered.'"

Alison knows that, for many people, social life gets better after high school. 

"There's no popular people and outcast people," she said. "There's just people." 

To hear Alison Awram voice her concerns about going back to class, tap here.

B.C. high school students will spend part of the school day in the classroom and part of the day working independently. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

Missing lockdown life

The month before public health measures were introduced in B.C., Charlene Huang was stressed. She was, as she puts it, "not in the best mental space."

Her family had just moved in with her grandad, who is in his 70s. Relatives were in the throes of the pandemic in Taiwan. And at Richmond High School, it was hard for the Grade 11 student — who is usually very academic — to focus. 

"My dad was sanitizing everything," she said. "It was really crazy." 

So, unlike other people, when COVID-19 hit B.C. in mid-March and schools closed, Huang felt relief.

If we never went into lockdown I would have never had a chance to figure out my priorities.- Charlene Huang, Grade 11

She stayed home. She started journaling. She used the time to learn more about herself, and found she loves painting, drawing, and that she really missed sports. 

"If we never went into lockdown, I would have never had a chance to figure out my priorities," she said.

Huang also really enjoyed attending school online. 

"I learned just as well and it took away the distraction of talking to your classmates," she said. "I find that it helps me focus."

COVID-19 signs posted at John Oliver Secondary School in Vancouver on Sept. 8. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Huang wants to become a doctor or maybe a lawyer.

She's worried about the new model for high school timetables: two courses at a time for 10 weeks, then switch. She worries she'll forget what she's learned, in science especially. 

"It's not like I'll just need it in high school. I'm going to need it in university and possibly the rest of my life," she said. "So it's really important to me that I remember and I retain this knowledge."

She wonders why school couldn't just continue online, so she could keep a regular timetable, like pre-COVID years. 

"I just want to know that my education won't be compromised." 

To hear Charlene Huang voice her concerns about going back to class, tap here.