Wednesday marked the first day of school for many students in Edmonton as they head back to class for the first time since schools were shut down in March because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
At Mother Margaret Mary Catholic School in southwest Edmonton, Grade 10s arrived first, for their first day of class on Wednesday morning as part of the school district’s staggered start to the school year.
The Grade 10 students arrived at 8:15 a.m., while the Grade 11 and 12 students arrived a bit later, around 9 a.m.
Students were required to wear a mask, have everything they need for the day in their backpacks and head right to their homeroom at the start of the day.
Principal Dean Rootsaert said it was great to see the kids arrive for their day, even under a bit different circumstances than they’re used to.
“It’s a nervous energy. It’s a positive energy,” he said outside the school Wednesday morning.
“It was great to see the kids this morning and these are our new Grade 10s, I’ve never met them before. So it’s really exciting to see them. It’s always exciting to start Grade 10 anyway — this is a little bit different, but I believe they’re really excited to be here.”
Rootsaert said the students will notice some changes to the way classrooms are set up. Zones have been set up within the school to try to keep students in cohorts as best as they can, and students have been given a specific door to enter the school, where normally they would all enter through the front door, the principal explained.
Rootsaert said he held a meeting with teachers on Tuesday and the goal is to try to make this feel like any other school year as best they can.
“We’re making it as normal as possible, so that’s generated by our community and really, the teachers are going to hold the ball on that one and our staff will hold the ball on that one. So I think there will be a lot of excitement just on trying to make it as normal as possible.”
One Grade 12 student who arrived at school thought learning from home without in-person teacher instruction would be challenging for him, so he opted for in-classroom learning for his final year of high school.
“I figured it’s so much harder for me to teach myself those things and it’s harder to get help from teachers,” Nikhil Praphu said.
“I figured since everyone is being so cautious and there’s so many rules in place, I thought it would be safe enough to come back to school and get that actual in-person assistance.”
Grade 12 student Kerri Stratton said she was happy to back at school, but added it wasn’t an easy decision to make.
“I don’t know what it’s going to be like,” she said.
“I want to go back to school because I like being in class but my parents were kind of just iffy. But they went with what I decided and they supported me with that decision.”
Wayne Birto dropped off his daughter for her last year of high school and said both he and his daughter experienced some back-to-school nerves.
“She was a little bit excited to go back because it’s her last year but it’s COVID and what’s going to happen? What happens if somebody gets sick or a couple people get sick, what’s going to happen? All kinds of feelings all around,” he said.
“The preference would be online but there’s also the social aspect of learning that you want your kid to socialize with other kids, which is something that’s hard to do.
“They’re trying and I guess we just have to watch and see what happens. … We’ve never done this before.”
Parents and students across Alberta had the option to choose at-home online learning or in-school learning this fall. Within the Edmonton Catholic district, about 75 per cent of students opted for in-classroom learning, with the remaining 25 per cent choosing online learning this term.
The first day of school for kids enrolled in Edmonton Public Schools is Thursday. According to the Edmonton Public School Board, about 70 per cent of its students will head back into class for in-person learning, while the remaining nearly 30 per cent have opted for online learning.
On Wednesday morning, Education Minister Adrianna LaGrange announced the allocation of $262 million in federal funding.
The funding will roll out to Alberta in two phases — once in September and once later in the school year.
The majority of the funding — $250 million — will be distributed to school authorities based on an equal per-student basis and it must be used to support additional COVID-19-related costs, including staffing, adapting learning spaces, personal protective equipment, cleaning and supports for student with special needs.
The rest of the funding — $12 million — will be dedicated to support school authorities who are seeing a large influx in enrolment due to increased demand for their online learning programs.
“We are still committed to ensuring that our school authorities have the supports and resources they require to ensure the safety of our staff and our students,” LaGrange said.
“If our schools need additional resources, we will — as we already have — make those resources available.”