Coronavirus: nerves and excitement as students begin returning to class in London, Ont., region

The yard of Bonaventure Meadows Public School on Monday, Sept. 14, 2020. Andrew Graham/Global News

Thousands of students returned to schools throughout the London, Ont., region on Monday as schools in the Thames Valley District School Board (TVDSB) and London District Catholic School Board (LDCSB) begin a staggered start to the new school year resulting from the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The start date was initially scheduled for Sept. 8, after the Labour Day long weekend, but the public board announced on Aug. 25 that the staggered start would begin Sept. 14, with a full return of all students on Sept. 18.

Remote learning, meanwhile, will begin Sept. 16 for elementary students and Sept. 17 for high school students in the TVDSB.

Similar schedules are in place at schools in the LDCSB, though for remote learning, the board says “students will be contacted by their teachers” this week.

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Read more: How this London, Ont., school is preparing for the return to class

Bonaventure Meadows Public School serves about 400 students between junior kindergarten and Grade 8 and like other schools in the TVDSB, it’s undergone some changes in order to adhere to COVID-19 guidelines.

That includes countless physical distancing reminders, signs to direct the flow of traffic in hallways and capacity limits on washrooms.

Water fountains have also been turned off in order to reduce congestion in hallways, with students encouraged to bring water bottles that they can fill at various water bottle filling stations in the school.

“I’m feeling pretty good about it,” said Markeese Fisher, who is just starting Grade 7 at Bonaventure.

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“Me and my mom went over what I’m supposed to expect but I’m feeling really good about this year. (I’m) excited to meet new friends and see my old ones.”

Click to play video 'School starts for students in the TDCSB amid COVID-19 pandemic' School starts for students in the TDCSB amid COVID-19 pandemic
School starts for students in the TDCSB amid COVID-19 pandemic – Sep 14, 2020

Louis Flores has two sons with autism, including one going into Grade 8 at Bonaventure. He told Global News that everyone is a bit nervous and concerned but he’s hoping that everyone co-operates with the new procedures.

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“It’s, what, six months since the last day of school? So they were pretty happy and excited to get back,” he said, adding that his boys practised wearing masks for stretches of time ahead of the return to school.

“Just basically whatever they were doing, you know, just have them wear the mask. Remember, they’re gonna be wearing a mask for at least, what, six, six hours? Right. So an hour, an-hour-and-a-half here and there so they get used to the feel of wearing the mask.”

Flores added that, depending on how the return to school unfolds, he’s thankful for the choice to switch to remote learning at a later date.

Read more: ‘We have been working with a flawed plan’ — London-area teachers unsure of back to school

Evon Clarkson was less concerned about the pandemic, expressing confidence in safety measures and the importance of socialization. He has a child going into Grade 7 who is new to Bonaventure but who has a friend he knows through football at the school.

“They have safety measures and they’re enforcing them,” he said.

“I think it’s worse for (children) to be at home and, you know, going stir crazy and playing video games and whatnot. So it’s nice to get back out and mingle with the kids and keep their brains fresh.”

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Read more: Ontario government launches COVID-19 tracking website for schools, licensed childcare centres

Bonaventure’s principal, Wendy MacInnis, says the school is ready to have the kids back and she was pleased to see the weather co-operate, with sunshine and a high of 18 C forecasted.

“Twenty-twenty, we expected full rain,” she joked. “We do have good weather so lots of people will be outside, lots of classes will be outside today.”

After the morning drop-off, MacInnis reflected on the morning with pride.

“We had teachers out holding signs. Kids already knew where to go. And we had asked parents to stay on the grassed area and all kids on tarmac and everyone followed suit,” she said.

“I think (parents) are relieved to get their kids, for the most part, back into some sort of routine. I think there’s some anxiety around what this looks like. And hopefully, these kids go home at the end the day and they say that they’ve had a good day and they felt safe.”

Click to play video 'Interest in outdoor school sees a spike this year in Ontario' Interest in outdoor school sees a spike this year in Ontario
Interest in outdoor school sees a spike this year in Ontario – Sep 14, 2020

— with files from Global News’ Natalie Lovie and Andrew Graham.