PEI

Back to school, but not back to normal: First day in class brings smiles, jitters

Hundreds of Charlottetown students headed back to school Thursday, days after an outbreak of COVID-19 prompted class cancellations.

Students, parents weigh in on reopening schools against backdrop of rising COVID-19 cases

Grade 11 Charlottetown Rural student Kalista Theriault says returning to class had her 'scared at first,' but she was happy to be back. (CBC News)

Hundreds of Charlottetown students headed back to school Thursday, days after an outbreak of COVID-19 prompted class cancellations.

While cases continue to rise (P.E.I. reported 10 new cases Thursday) and many are still out on isolation orders, several high school students told CBC News it feels good to be back.

"I'm actually really glad that it's back, because online school is not for me," Grade 11 Charlottetown Rural student Kalista Theriault said.

"I like seeing people, being around people, the energy. I need people."

There were fewer kids in the halls than usual, and there were some nerves, but there are protocols in place around mask-wearing, desk-cleaning and social-distancing. Many of these measures students are already used to after last year, Kalista said.

"I was scared at first," she said. "But it's not that bad."

Grade 12 student Thomas Conway says the rising case numbers are 'concerning' after so many months of low numbers. (CBC News)

Grade 12 student Thomas Conway agreed.

"I'd rather be in person than online. I think that the whole education is better ... than trying to always do Google Slides and Google Meets," he said. "It's nice to be back in class."

Thomas said he was alarmed by news of the outbreak of cases after such a long stretch of low or no cases.

"We were doing so good for so long. I kind of thought we were kind of hitting the end of it," he said.

"And then all of a sudden we had eight, nine, 10 cases and it just kept going up. I was like 'Where are they all coming from?'"

Because he's already had both doses of the vaccine, Thomas said he's not worried for his own safety. But he said it's "kind of concerning" for those who are too young to be vaccinated.

"I know for some parents whose kids aren't vaccinated yet, it's very stressful," he said. 

'They need their education'

Nicole Brewer can relate. 

Nicole Brewer has children in Grade 1 and 3, too young to be vaccinated. (CBC News)

She has children in Grade 1 and Grade 3 at West Kent Elementary, both of them too young to be vaccinated, and said it has "been a struggle" coping with news of the outbreak and the uncertainty of sending her kids back to school.

"They need their education, but I also want them safe, so it's hard to say," she said. "If an outbreak happened that quick I'm scared it's going to happen again."

The P.E.I. Home and School Federation agreed that it is a difficult time for parents.

"Our hearts go out to these families," said federation president Heather Mullen. "It's stressful. It's concerning. Anytime your child gets sick, it's concerning."

However, Mullen said it's important to remember that school is important for learning, and helps in many other ways too.

"When you have a student that's not eating, a student that needs extra help, needs extra caring for, needs different supports within the community, they're often getting that in the school," she said.  

With files from Laura Meader and Shane Hennessey

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