Families, teachers thrilled as Outaouais elementary schools welcome kids back

After weeks of online learning, elementary students will be returning to school Monday in Quebec's Outaouais region, much to the pleasure of parents, students and teachers.

Students have been learning virtually since the beginning of April

The Smith-DeGrace family arrives at Chelsea Elementary School in September 2020. On Monday, elementary schools across the Outaouais will once again welcome back their students. (Natalia Goodwin/CBC)

After weeks of online learning, elementary students will be returning to school Monday in Quebec's Outaouais region, much to the pleasure of parents, students and teachers.

All of the region's schools have been teaching virtually since April 1, when COVID-19 infections hit the highest levels since the start of the pandemic and most of western Quebec was placed back in the red zone.

The closure was meant to only last 10 days, but it ended up being extended.

"We are very excited in our home about going back to in-person learning [Monday]. It has been a very long last few weeks," said Amanda DeGrace, whose three children attend Chelsea Elementary School in Chelsea, Que.

DeGrace said her kids have been missing their friends and can't wait to reconnect with them. 

"[Whenever] we had to break the bad news to them that it was another week at home, it was always a very heavy emotional day for them," she said.

Initially, schools were only supposed to have been closed in the Outaouais for 10 days. (Kimberley Molina/CBC)

Hard to work and teach

The feeling is mutual for Becca Atkinson and her two boys.

"I think they miss the structure of school and their friends," said Atkinson, whose children attend École Saint-Jean-Bosco in the Hull district of Gatineau, Que.

"They've told me that they'd rather be back in school."

For Atkinson, who's separated and has her children half the time, it's been practically impossible to work while also homeschooling them.

"[It's] almost a write-off. You're putting out fires, you're just kind of managing," she said. "Then I have to make up for it on the weekend or the evening and the days that I don't have them here."

Teachers want to return, too

Many elementary school teachers also want to go back, even though the pandemic is a scary time to be in the classroom, said Heidi Yetman, president of the Quebec Provincial Association of Teachers.

"You have to understand that we're full on — so classes of 30 to 36 in unventilated rooms. It's quite concerning," said Yetman.

Despite that fear, Yetman said teachers prefer to be in the class, and that teaching, especially to the very young and those with special needs is full of challenges.

"There's more to learning than just filling the brain with knowledge. It's relationships, it's looking into your students eyes, it's having that contact.," she said 

"If there's anything this pandemic has shown [it's] how important it is for kids to be in their classrooms. So I think it's going to be  easier on everybody to go back into their classrooms to have their students in front of them."

Yetman said some anxieties may also be easing as teachers have been eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine since April, while as of Monday anyone 30 and older in Quebec can also book a shot.

While the majority of western Quebec high schools remain closed, they are slated to reopen Monday in the MRCs of Papineau and La Vallée-de-la-Gatineau.

Those regions return to the red zone, which also means a 9:30 p.m. curfew and non-essential businesses reopening.


Natalia is a multi-platform journalist in Ottawa. She has also worked for CBC in P.E.I. and Newfoundland and Labrador.

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