‘It was a challenging day’: Students, staff return to schools in York Region

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WATCH ABOVE: It’s back to school for students at the York Region District School Board. Some teachers say the first day jitters have been made worse by the pandemic. Miranda Anthistle reports – Sep 10, 2020

It was back to school for tens of thousands of students at the York Region District School Board (YRDSB) on Thursday and the day’s orientation schedule gave them a glimpse of what the new school year will look like.

“Everybody was really quiet,” Meeka Daniels, a Grade 9 student at Westmount Collegiate Institute in Vaughan, said.

“I think everybody felt a little weird, like not really used to it,” friend Lily Magalashvili added.

Read more: Start of academic year delayed for most TDSB high school students

High School students at Ontario’s third-largest school board will spend half the day doing in-class, face-to-face learning, and the other half doing virtual courses from home. It’s a schedule these students said will take some time to get used to as well as the COVID-19 safety measures.

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“Every time we came to a class we had to put hand sanitizer on, but wearing a mask was the most difficult part of school,” Daniels said.

Teachers at Westmount C.I. described other challenges with the first day back.

“Class sizes have decreased, everything is spaced out, students are wearing masks, but it’s hard to see their social expressions. It’s very challenging at times,” Drea Latford, who teaches Grade 9 geography, told Global News.

Drama teacher Joanna Lambert described the changes to her classroom and the hallways which now have stickers and markings to designate where to stand and which direction to walk in. She said the normal first day back jitters have been made worse by the pandemic with students feeling anxious and nervous.

“They’re not allowed to talk to their friends, there’s rules about going to the bathroom, they can’t sit in a circle, they can’t get close… it was a challenging day,” Lambert said, adding there’s a concern about the amount of students crossing paths in between classes.

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“I think we need more time to figure out the logistics. I think it was a bit too soon to put the teachers and students back into the classroom.”

YRDSB high school students have been divided into two cohorts, group A and group B. Students in Cohort A started today while Cohort B begin on Sept. 11.

The mornings consist of two-and-a-half hours of in-person classes followed by online learning in the afternoon from home. Every course will rotate on different days, so by the end of the first semester each cohort will have spent the same amount of time in school.

Unlike the Toronto District School Board, which is dividing the year into four semesters, YRDSB is staying with the regular two-semester school year.

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