Hamilton students say masks hurt to wear, social distancing a challenge while outside

Students in St. Thérèse of Lisieux Catholic Elementary School poked at their masks while they sat at their desks on Thursday, but never took them off. When they are off outside though, sometimes they students got a little too close to each other.

'The whole physical distancing and wearing the masks is kind of unnatural for them ... but they were awesome'

Grade 3 students in Hamilton, Ont. experience school during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

Students in St. Thérèse of Lisieux Catholic Elementary School poked at their masks while they sat at their desks on Thursday, but never took them off. And when the masks are off during outdoor time, sometimes students get a little too close to each other.

They are adjusting to a new reality of schools reopening during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The whole physical distancing and wearing the masks is kind of unnatural for them," principal Josie Pini told CBC, "but they were awesome. I guess the parents have prepared them well."

Students poked and picked at their face masks while in class at St. Thérèse of Lisieux Catholic Elementary School in Hamilton. The principal said overall, masking hasn't been an issue. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

Pini said it has been a "learning curve" for everyone but said overall, the start has been relatively smooth at the 16-year-old school on Garth Street near Rymal Road West.

Of their 700 students, roughly 580 are attending in-person classes and only three of them have mask exemptions.

But the number of in-person students is changing.

"We get a few more parents, as the [COVID-19] numbers go up, who are getting a little anxious and pulling their children out of the school before they start," Pini said.

'The masks always hurt'

The Grade 3 classes at the school were putting pencil crayon to paper during CBC's visit on Thursday. Kids were spaced out, roughly a metre apart, all of them wearing masks.

Many said the masks were uncomfortable though. They complained about having sore ears from the elastic bands.

Students are entering schools in smaller groups to help educators teach them about COVID-19 protocols. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

"The masks always hurt no matter which one you use," said one student.

But they also said they were getting used to wearing masks, and they understood the masks prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The kids at this school go outside two to three times, which would allow them to take off their masks.

"We're hopeful and optimistic no one becomes ill. We do have protocols in place for that," Pini said.

Physical distancing a challenge outdoors

Outdoor time is reserved for one cohort at a time, but still some kids still struggled to avoid getting too close to each other.

"If they're playing catching they're going to get closer and closer and it's just so natural for them to get closer to each other," Pini explained.

A teacher at St. Thérèse of Lisieux Catholic Elementary School stops a group of seven boys who got too close to each other in the corner and re-explains physical distancing. The school principal said kids have trouble playing with each other and staying distanced. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

Kids threw around balls and raced around outside.

When students did get too close, staff were quick to stop them and help them understand what was wrong.

Kids loved outdoor time, racing and playing with each other during their breaks. Sometimes, they had issues staying two metres away from each other. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

Many of the class sessions revolve around teaching children about the various COVID-19 protocols. In kindergarten classes students have to return to their desks or collect their backpacks one by one, instead of all together at once.

Staff also still have small logistical questions about when kids should be sanitizing their hands and whether various equipment, like a basketball, can be used for play.

Pini says they regularly discuss those details.

Parents optimistic about schools

Outside the classroom, Nicole Santos waited for her two kids to be dismissed from their first day of school.

"I'm not as concerned yet because there are lots of safety measures in place for the kids, but we'll see how it goes," she told CBC.

Some children were emotional seeing their parents, clutching them by the waist and crying.

Nicole Santos spoke with a teacher from St. Thérèse of Lisieux Catholic Elementary School after picking her children up from school. The teacher said some students, like the one behind Santos were emotional seeing parents. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

Alison Gayle was worried waiting for her child in senior kindergarten.

"I'm praying there won't be any outbreak ... we're taking a chance with this virus," she said.

She would have preferred online learning, but isn't able to afford that option. Local school boards have both said they are doing all they can to try and help add equity into the school reopening plans.

Ignazio Monaco waited for his granddaughter in Grade 4. 

"We gotta stay positive and obey the rules and don't play games," he explained.

"I'm a little concerned because they're small kids but I'm sure they'll do fine. They have to get out and meet old friends. They have to get out of the house and learn."


Bobby Hristova


Bobby Hristova is a reporter/editor with CBC Hamilton. Email: bobby.hristova@cbc.ca