Nfld. & Labrador

Back-to-school promise barely gets a passing grade from parents

The news from Newfoundland and Labrador's education minister that students will be back in the classroom is getting a mixed reaction from parents in this province.

School shutdown had huge impact on families

Briagh Hogan, 13, does some online learning at home. (Submitted by Kaley Hogan)

The news from Newfoundland and Labrador's education minister that students will be back in the classroom in September is getting a mixed reaction from parents in the province.

For Kaley Hogan and her family of three in Paradise, the pandemic has been everything but kind. Her 13-year-old daughter, Briagh, wasn't getting the online education her mother had hoped for.

"There was zero coursework or any correspondence, really," she said Wednesday.

Along with her unhappiness over the public school education her daughter was getting, Hogan, who works as a mental health counsellor, also started noticed Briagh was staying up late and had fallen into a dark place. 

Kaley and Briagh Hogan share a hug during pre-pandemic days. (Submitted by Kaley Hogan)

"I wouldn't say it was depression or anything like that, but it was dark. She was quiet and she was removed," Hogan said.

In May, she enrolled her teenager into online schooling at St. Bonaventure's College in St. John's and saw a significant change. 

"It gave her hope and life again," said Hogan.

Briagh had structure, a set schedule and group work to do. Along with her education getting back on track, Hogan said her daughter started getting the socialization she had been lacking.

Her mother was so impressed with the private school that she has enrolled her daughter there in the fall. 

Sullivan Ryan, 4, got the chance to return to his child-care centre this week. (Submitted by Kaley Hogan)

But Briagh isn't an only child. Her younger brother, Sullivan, also suffered during the shutdown. The four-year-old was born prematurely and doctors spent the first two years of his life trying to figure out why he wasn't responding to people speaking to him. 

It turns out he was hard of hearing and that slowed down his speech development. With the issue identified, he had been developing well while at daycare, but the doors there closed in March.

"When the child-care facility was closed, it was so hard on him and he completely reverted," said Hogan.

"I put him back there last Monday and he's absolutely thriving."

While the return to school for Briagh, and kinderstart for Sullivan, is on the horizon, Hogan hopes the government does its part to keep COVID-19 far from Newfoundland and Labrador. 

"I'm absolutely happy things are getting back to normal, but I think we need to proceed with caution," she said.

Lisa O'Flaherty and Jaymee Mickle have been working and studying from home since March. (Submitted by Lisa O'Flaherty)

In Bay Roberts, Lisa O'Flaherty had to juggle being the lone parent and a teacher to her children, while working full time.

Her daughter Jaymee Mickel, 7, needed Mom's help for her online education. 

"It was very difficult trying to work and help teach her math," O'Flaherty said.

When news broke that her daughter will be heading back to Coley's Point Primary in September, O'Flaherty found herself torn. 

"I'm happy that she'll be going back to school because the teachers do such a wonderful job," she said over the phone from her home.

"But on the other hand, it scares me because of the coronavirus."

O'Flaherty has been trying her best to juggle work, home-schooling and staying healthy during the pandemic. (Submitted by Lisa O'Flaherty)

Jaymee has been taught to physically distance and to wash her hands often, but her mom has concerns about putting all the kids back in the classroom. 

"School is still another 2½ months away," O'Flaherty said.

"I think it's hard for them to say that the students are going back to school for sure when we don't know what's going to happen tomorrow."

O'Flaherty also has Type 1 diabetes and has been batting necrotizing fasciitis, also known as flesh-eating disease, since 2013.

The disease almost took her leg, and her health is a concern.

"I'm trying to help her understand about the virus and how dangerous it is," she said.

"I have to be very careful about what I do, with where I go."

While O'Flaherty can keep an eye on her child at home, it gets a lot harder when Jaymee is in a classroom with other students. 

Charlotte, left, Sara and their mom Tina show off their masks. (Submitted by Tina Crane)

In St. John's, Tina Crane and her family have been doing their best to endure COVID-19. 

Both she and her husband work full time, but her job at a local pharmacy requires her to be out of the house. 

Crane says she got a little excited when it was announced that school would be back in session come September. 

"I may have squealed in joy," she said.

"It's a sign that we're getting back to normal."

But just like O'Flaherty and Hogan, she has to help home school her six-year-old daughter, who is in French immersion. 

"I don't speak French, so I struggled," Crane said. "Is she getting what she needs? It's definitely hard."

But come September her youngest, Charlotte, will head into kindergarten while Sara, 6, heads to Grade 2. 

All three families have struggled, but will now slowly start to enjoy the warmer weather.

As for school starting in September, they say that depends on the province getting everything ready to provide a safe space for learning. 

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Jeremy Eaton is a reporter and videojournalist with CBC Newfoundland and Labrador.