Edmonton

Mixed feelings for parents as Edmonton Catholic students head back to school

As Edmonton Catholic School Division held it's first day of class, parents doing drop off said that while their kids were excited to see friends again, it certainly wasn't a typical first day back.

Only students with last names starting with A to K arrived Wednesday

A masked student disembarks her bus and heads off to her first day of school in Edmonton. (Dave Bajer/CBC)

Many of the smiles of students posing for first day of school pictures outside a north Edmonton elementary school Wednesday morning were hidden beneath masks.

As Edmonton Catholic School Division held it's first day of class, parents doing drop off said that while their kids were excited to see friends again, it certainly wasn't a typical first day back.

At Father Leo Green Catholic School in north Edmonton, parents dropping off their kids weren't allowed in the building, and instead were greeted on the school yard by teachers holding signs as they gathered their students and prepared to go in.

Parents couldn't go in, but were sent a video tour of the classroom in advance and other information to help kids prepare.

Only students with last names starting with A to K arrived Wednesday. The rest of the alphabet will have their first day Thursday, and teachers will do professional development on Friday. The full student body will attend starting next week. As of October 2019, the Edmonton Catholic School Board reported enrolment at 44,300 across 96 schools.

Nadege Asongaze's daughter Kayla was excited to get started with Grade 3.

Grade 3 student Kayla and her mother Nadege Nadege Asongaze pose for a photo on the first day back to Father Leo Green Elementary School on Sept. 2, 2020 (Paige Parsons/CBC)

"It's a mixed feeling. You are scared as a parent and uncertain, but at the same time, I think, with all the protocols that are put in place the students should be okay," Asongaze said. 

She said her family is going to evaluate how things go for the first part of the school year and go from there, but she said Kayla was keen to get back to see her friends. 

"I think kids are very much aware that things aren't going to be exactly the same, the way they were before," she said.

Asongaze had her younger children with her during drop off, including her son who is going into Grade 1 but who wasn't going to be attending on Wednesday.

"I'm keeping him until Monday. This morning he wasn't exactly sure if he wanted to come back to school," she said.

Melissa Hanssen dropped off her son Maximus Brown, who was starting Grade 4, who was excited to come back even though he knew things would be different this year. 

"It's been a long six months. He couldn't wait to get back and see his friends, and have some routine," Hanssen said.

Maximus Brown's mother says he was excited to return to Father Leo Green Elementary School despite knowing things would be different this year. (Dave Bajer/CBC)

She said she thinks the schools have done a good job with the resources they were given to prepare. 

"I'm confident they will do their best to keep our kids safe. At the end of the day, there's risk to everything we do in life. Our children want to go back to school, so we allowed it and we support it."

For older students, the return has felt strange.

Aspen Kennedy, Grade 12 student at Mother Margaret Mary Catholic High School, said he was a "little worried" about going back. He said the first few classes he'd attended were a bit weird.

"Pretty distant from everybody compared to before," he said Wednesday. "It's crazy to think back to how close we all were." 

His friend Davin Mulick-Enabu said it's a big change to walk the halls seeing classmates in masks, but he thinks he'll get used to it.

"All we can do is just keep wearing the mask, and hope that this flies by," he said.

Mother Margaret Mary Catholic High School students Aspen Kennedy and Davin Mulick-Enabu attended the first day of classes Wednesday. (Min Dhariwal/CBC)

The teens say it'll be weird to spend their last year of high school observing physical-distancing requirements.

"It does suck a little bit, but hopefully things will turn out pretty good," Mulick-Enabu said.

It was also the first day for students who opted for remote learning.

Sandra Haltiner teaches social studies at Mother Margaret Mary, and is president of the Edmonton Catholic Teachers Local 54.

Haltliner said the division gave her the option to teach students remotely, and that while it's been challenging to get a plan up and running for teaching over video, she's confident they can make it work. 

"These kids deserve to have a good education. They deserve to come to a safe, caring environment," she said.

She said in spite of challenges with getting enough funding and support, she said the school division has done a great job of making the best of the situation and preparing to run class while dealing with the issues surrounding COVID-19.

"They work tirelessly to make this go off without a hitch. Our kids will come to school, be safe, be protected and they'll get a good education and they'll come to school and they'll know that the teachers care about them and that the community cares about them," she said. 

Edmonton Public Schools will start classes on Thursday.

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