Why some GTA students aren't happy with the modified semesters they'll face in September

Some students and parents aren't satisfied with a recent switch from quadmesters to modified semesters at the Toronto District School Board and the York Region District School Board.

TDSB moving to new model after pushback from students, parents about quadmesters

Jason Wong, a Grade 11 student at Earl Haig Secondary School, says modified semesters won't work because students will struggle to retain information. (Supplied by Jason Wong)

When it comes to the upcoming school year, Jason Wong says he's riddled with anxiety — and he's not alone.

The Grade 11 student at Earl Haig Secondary School in Toronto says he's heard from several students who are concerned about the new modified semester, one of them being how the school day will be organized.

"I am honestly still confused about what the schedule looks like," said Wong, who is also the student body president.

"Having these two-hour, 30-minute classes and not having an asynchronous break in between, then only having a 45- minute lunch, it's simply not enough time for the kids to recuperate," Wong told CBC News.

The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) announced last week that it would move to modified semesters after pushback over the quadmester model that saw students learning two subjects over roughly nine weeks last school year. Many complained it was hard to retain the knowledge and it was too much content to compress in a short amount of time.   

With a modified schedule, students will take four courses — two each during alternating weeks while remaining in cohorts. The York Region District School Board (YRDSB) is also adopting a similar model.

Some parents and students aren't happy about the plan to implement modified semesters in high schools come September. The plan was adopted after pushback over the quadmester model, which was introduced during the pandemic. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

The TDSB says it is trying to get as close to "normal" as possible while still abiding by direction from the Ministry of Education and Toronto Public Health.

The board told CBC News in an email that it is emphasizing cohorts — separating students into small groups to slow any spread of the novel coronavirus — as much as possible, and that "the modified semester model will result in a slower pace by learning over a longer period of time compared to the quadmester model."

But Wong says this new model isn't any better because it doesn't give students enough time to retain the knowledge and have access to teachers for ongoing learning. 

"If you have a whole gap of active learning, if you're not actively being instructed by the teacher for a week ... you're not getting that active communication system," he said.

Katie Filosa, a Grade 10 student at Markham District High School in York Region, says students deserve to have school go back to the way it was. 

"I don't want to be in a cohort. I want to be with my friends and I want to have a normal year because I feel like that's what we deserve. And I feel that if I am vaccinated and hundreds of kids around me are vaccinated, why are we holding back?"

Jason Wong says the new direction from the TDSB and the Ministry of Education doesn't explain how extra curriculars will work and where specialized arts programs will be accommodated. (Supplied by Jason Wong)

Filosa says she worries about how the expectation of students will change with the modified semester format. 

"There's going to be a lot of pressure on the students especially to get work done to remember everything," she said.

"I feel like the teachers are trying to reduce stress, but this is almost putting another load of stress on top of everything."

Parents worry about quality of education

Susan Lee has two kids at Earl Haig Secondary School and sits on the parent council. Her children are in the school's Claude Watson arts program, which provides specialized courses in performing and visual arts. 

She says the quadmester system didn't work for that. 

"Where it takes a month or a year to develop a skill, [my daughter's] having to do it in like six weeks, seven weeks," she said.

Lee says she's also concerned about the modified schedule. 

"There's not enough turnaround time for them to ask the questions that they need to ask as they're ... working on the projects or their assignments," she said. 

Katie Filosa, left, seen here with her mother Vanessa Filosa, wishes school boards and the Ministry of Education had asked students what wanted they before deciding on modified semesters. (Submitted by Vanessa Filosa)

Vanessa Filosa, Katie's mother, worries that modified semesters won't give her daughter the best chance at success in school. 

"I think that the the quality of education is obviously not going to be what I think the standard should be. It's definitely going to be a compromise, compromising the kids' academic success and development."

Ontario's vaccine campaign should allow students to move toward normalcy.

"I don't think anybody can guarantee that the quality of education will be the same as pre-pandemic and that's my main concern," she said.

"High school is four years and if my daughter has another semester of this weird schedule, 50 per cent of her high school experience will have been severely diminished."

Leslie Wolfe, who heads the Toronto chapter of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation (OSSTF), says while it is not ideal, the new schedule is the best course of action given where things are in the pandemic.

"This schedule has been developed based on what the pros and cons of what was learned from using the quadmester system," she said.

Leslie Wolfe, Toronto president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation, says it was hard to teach during quadmesters. She says modified semesters will help students retain the course material. (Supplied by Leslie Wolfe)

"Moving back and forth from week to week is not perfect ... but in terms of giving students a longer amount of time with each set ... it will have a better impact on long-term retention of the materials that the students are learning."

In a statement to CBC News, a spokesperson for Education Minister Stephen Lecce says the government's goal is to deliver the most normal and safe school experience come September. 

The spokesperson says prioritizing double vaccination for education workers and students aged 12 and up "will enable more flexibility and allow for a more normal in-class learning experience — including clubs, sports, and extra-curriculars" 


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