Manitoba parents, students grapple with anxieties about heading back to class

Back-to-school emotions run high in Manitoba
It's a back-to-school like none other. Global News catches up with several parents and children to find out how they're feeling.

Looking at your child’s back-to-school shopping list, there are probably some items on there you haven’t seen in years past.

“I never thought back-to-school shopping would include buying a whole set of masks for each of my children. That’s a new one,” Landmark mother Danielle Wollmann said.

“That anxiety is starting to creep up a bit and there’s a lot of unknowns.”

Read more: Manitoba outlines more details on back-to-school plans amid coronavirus for parents, students, staff

Wollmann has three children going back to class this September amid the coronavirus pandemic — her youngest going into Grade 4, her middle child into Grade 6 and her eldest in Grade 8.

“I feel like I’m hiding a lot from my children where I’m working very hard to not talk about what I’m anxious about around them or telling them what my concerns are — just trying to keep everything really positive. Yes, the school year is going to look different for them but it can still be good,” she said.

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I don’t know what social distancing is going to look like on the playground. I think playing with their friends is going to look different. Sitting in the classroom – they’re not going to be able to sit at the table with their friends anymore so sitting in the classroom is going to look different. They’re not going to be able to see their teachers’ expressions and smile at them. That’s going to look different.”

Wollmann said she was concerned her children wouldn’t be keen to wear a mask but they’ve been excited about their custom designs.

“I worked really hard to not bring up any fears or anxieties around COVID or masks. So I’ve tried to make it really fun. We’ve gone shopping and purchased fun masks for them and we’ve practised wearing them around when we go out. There’s an element of fun and novelty but there still is some anxiety if in a week or so is that novelty going to wear off.”

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Her daughter Hannah was excited to show off her chosen masks.

“We had to get to the fabric store and follow the arrows. There was a bunch of fabric I liked but some didn’t work,” she said. 

“I have three of them — one of them is banana pattern, another is pineapple, they all have blue backgrounds.”

Remote learning options
Remote learning options

Hannah says she’s looking forward to seeing her friends and having her teacher.

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Hannah’s older brother Aiden is going into Grade 8 and is also looking forward to getting out of the house. He says switching to home learning in the spring wasn’t a good fit for him.

“It was stressful, very stressful,” he said. “Some of the stuff I was learning I didn’t really get. When I did go to school to see my teachers, it was a lot easier.”

Westman Homeschool Connection
Westman Homeschool Connection

Lana Kotyk is another parent who has concerns about school starting next week.

“It has been nerve-wracking. My husband and I, we go back and forth on what to do,” she said. “I thought about homeschooling — I can’t, though. I have to work. My husband has to work. To find someone to do it, we are then paying for it. It’s more money coming out of our pockets. The homeschooling isn’t an option.

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“We don’t have a choice. They aren’t giving us any options. We have to send them back to school so that’s what we will do.”

Kotyk doesn’t have a lot of faith in the back-to-school plans and is anxious her son may be a carrier for the new coronavirus.

“We’re not going to know if it comes homes unless one of us gets sick. If that happens, who’s to blame? I’m to blame because I sent him. But I have to send him. But then it’s going to be my fault,” she said.

“I feel it’s going to be my fault if he comes home with something and papa gets sick or his aunt gets sick. She’s an elder as well. It would be sad knowing it could have come from him and he’s brought it home.”

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Kotyk is also grappling with mixed feelings.

“In some ways, I’m excited for him to go back to be with his friends but on the other side, it sucks for them — he won’t really be with his friends. They’re going to be split up in different parts, you don’t get your same gym classes and music classes.

“Depending on how the classes are set up, we don’t know what it looks like. Will he be able to sit with his friends? Will they be at single desks or tables with plastic in the middle of them? It’s sad that way knowing it’s not going to be normal for him and the other kids.”

Read more: Manitoba students get ready to wear masks for the school year

Kotyk’s son Kyle is heading into Grade 4 and has his own concerns about going back to class.

“I’m scared I’m going to get the coronavirus,” he said, looking at his four new sports-themed masks he’s bringing to school this year.

“Different (this year) is this coronavirus and the masks, for sure. I’ve never been in this situation before with masks, coronavirus and cases and stuff. I don’t like it.”

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Parents are hoping that before school starts, more information can be made clear on what the upcoming school year will look like.