Students might be back in class, but what's been missed is top of mind for some
Challenges making friends, fear of academic careers on the minds of Windsor youth
While the pandemic has felt never-ending for many, the last 20 months of interrupted education has been especially difficult for students.
Some young people, like Grade 10 student Jett Shields, have never experienced high school outside of COVID-19 restrictions and disruptions.
"It's been pretty — it's very individual," said Shields, who attends Walkerville Collegiate in Windsor, Ont.
"I've had most of my high school through my laptop screen in my basement and you know that made things for Grade 9 especially more difficult for me. I was the only person from my grade school that chose to go to wonderful Walkerville Collegiate and it means that making friends is pretty much impossible."
Since most of his classes have been online, Shields said he's found it difficult to get personal with his fellow classmates.
"There was probably a three-month span where things felt normal, but ... the schedule is nothing near a normal high school schedule," he said.
I think it'll come later in life. When I realize I probably missed more than I realize now,- Jett Shields, Grade 10 student
Ontario students returned to class Monday after an extended holiday break and a week-and-a-half of virtual learning, brought on by COVID-19.
The provincial government had promised to bring back classes in a safe way, offering N95 masks and HEPA air filtration units to make classrooms more safe.
"There wasn't a huge difference from before when we were off in December and when we came back," said Elizabeth Evon, who goes to St. Thomas of Villanova Secondary School in LaSalle, Ont.
"I didn't quite understand why were were off the additional how many days because I didn't really notice anything significant enough to justify it I suppose."
Evon returned to her school on Monday, but said she was the only one in her friend group to choose to return to in-person learning.
"A few of my friends are immunocompromised so they've been unable to get the vaccine and this whole thing has been very stressful for them," she said.
"Since they don't have that protection of their own immune system, we've all been worried about it."
Evon's anxieties around schooling aren't related to COVID-19 safety — she said she does feel confident in the school's safety protocols — but, like Shields, is more worried about what's missing.
"I'm going into my second semester of Grade 10 and I have not written a single exam," she said.
"Personally I'm a very academic person and I want to do well with my post-secondary education and it's very difficult for me to envision that."
The young student is stressed, and worried her first written exam will be to a university as a submission for early acceptance.
Other students in Windsor tell CBC News they want back in class.
The fears and anxieties shared by Shields and Evon are common across the province.
Provincial restrictions and months spent learning through a screen have contributed to a deterioration in the mental health of some children and teenagers, in part, because of the physical isolation from their peers. The number of Ontario youth seeking treatment for eating disorders has spiked. There are also concerns the impact of the last two years on mental health will continue on long after the pandemic is over.
It's something both Evon and Shields say they are thinking about.
"I read online it could be up to 10 years to recover from the two-and-a-half years we've been dealing with all this," she said. "I'm also very anxious and I struggle a lot with not being able to cope with situations I haven't experienced before. So I am very nervous."
"I think it'll come later in life. When I realize I probably missed more than I realize now," said Shields.