About 130,000 students returned to school across Nova Scotia on Tuesday, marking the first time they’ve been in a classroom since the COVID-19 pandemic moved lessons online this spring.
Many began their day with staggered entries to school grounds, hand sanitizing upon arrival and learning to interact with teachers and peers at a distance, while wearing a face mask.
Halifax-area high school students say the new protocols are “different,” but they’re cautiously optimistic about what this historic academic year will hold for them.
“I was really nervous this morning but it was really good,” said Dartmouth High School Grade 10 student Mika Kawaja.
“We can do it, we just got to stick together, but six feet apart,” added Connor MacPherson, also in Grade 10. “We all have to hold together in this.”
For the last month, parents, teachers and some students have criticized the Nova Scotia Education Department’s back-to-school plan, alleging it lacks details on the particulars of COVID-19 safety, such as pickup and drop-off protocols, recess rules, ventilation upgrades and more.
Speaking outside Citadel High School, Grade 10 student Simon Church said the first day back was “quiet” but organized.
“It was all good,” he told Global News. “It was kind of hard to talk to people with the masks, but you got used to it.”
Fellow Grade 10 student Willow Ryer shared his confidence in students’ ability to adapt to the plan.
“We did have to stay apart from each other, six feet… I think it’s functional. I think we can do it.”
While the first day of school went smoothly for the most part, some students shared their concerns about attending school during the pandemic, including a lack of extra-curricular activities and the inability to interact with friends in other grades.
“I’m a theatre kid, I was expecting to do lots of musical stuff,” said Ace Sasinek-Oril, a Grade 11 student at Citadel High School.
“Most of my friends are upperclassmen, and we’re not really supposed to mingle as much this year because they want to keep it as contained as possible, so we’ll see how it goes.”
Other students said they’d miss elements of online learning, or they weren’t looking forward to wearing a mask while summer temperatures endure. Some expressed concern that they’d be late for class with all the directional signage in place in hallways.
Nova Scotia Teachers Union president Paul Wozney said he has yet to hear substantial feedback from teachers on how the first day of school went, but he’ll be keeping a close eye on health and safety in classrooms and advising staff to turn down any work they deem unsafe.
“We have such wide-open lanes of communication between teachers and all levels of elected leaders,” he told Global News.
“Teachers are certainly not done advocating for safety on a school-by-school basis.”
Education Minister Zach Churchill said students, parents and staff can expect a few “hiccups” this week, but the back-to-school plan is flexible and will be updated if any particularly tricky circumstances arise.
“All things considered, you know, I think day one, from all accounts that I’m receiving, has gone relatively well,” he said in an interview. “But it’s just one day of many in the school year and we all have to do our part to keep each other safe while we’re in school.”
Churchill thanked staff at all levels of the education system for their work in preparing Nova Scotia schools for this week.