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Excitedly anxious: London, Ont. teachers on first day of school amid rise in COVID-19 cases

Click to play video: 'Parents, kids prepare for return to school amid Delta concerns' Parents, kids prepare for return to school amid Delta concerns
There is trepidation for parents across Canada, as families prepare for the start of school year, even as children below the age of 12 remain ineligible for the vaccine and cases of the Delta variant rise. Montana Getty looks at what that means for parents and kids trying to keep up with new rules – Aug 29, 2021

The first day of school has officially kicked off for many teachers and students in London, Ont.

But unlike last September, most of them are going back to school in person this time.

Local high school art teacher Krystal Caldwell tells 980 CFPL both back-to-school last year and this year came with stress from what-ifs and unknowns related to COVID-19 and now, the Delta variant.

“Last year, it was ‘what is it even going to look like?’ This year, we know what it’s going to look like, but we don’t know what’s going to happen,” she said. “The worry is, do we go back online? Do we go back to cohorts?”

Read more: Canadian students prepare for COVID-19 school year during fourth wave

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Elementary school music teacher Amanda Short feels the same uncertainty.

“I feel like there’s lingering anxiety in the air about what this year will bring… Last year was tough and I’m afraid we’re going to have a repeat of that.”

Despite this, both teachers say they’re looking forward to finally seeing their students again after months of summer break and online learning in the springtime.

“I’ve missed my students. I’m still trepidatious with Delta variant concerns, but overall, I’m very excited,” Caldwell said.

“I’m really excited to see my students because I’ve missed them so much,” Short echoed.

Read more: ‘Really unpredictable’: Worries mount over return to school amid 4th COVID-19 wave

In order to keep her students as safe as possible, Caldwell bought extra art supplies so students won’t have to share as much.

She’ll also be wearing a face mask and a face shield when teaching, and will try to maintain social distancing as much as possible in her classroom.

“On my desk, I have a document camera so I can do a lot of teaching underneath the camera, so the kids are still getting that individual learning,” she explained. “They can also show me a problem they’re having and I can run through a technique that will help the entire class.”

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As for Short, she’s concerned her students will get sick since they’re too young to receive a dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

“I’m vaccinated so I can protect myself, but there is no vaccine for (my students),” she said.

“It’s our part to do the best that we can (to) keep them safe, so, making sure their masks are on properly, keeping our social distancing and hand-washing, but it’s still a worry at the back of my head.”

The music teacher hopes she’ll be able to sing with her students while wearing masks this school year, but she knows wind instruments will not make a return due to a lack of social distancing opportunities.

“I feel like if we had smaller class sizes, we would be able to social distance more (and) it would be a lot safer for our staff and students,” Short said. “I’m a little disappointed at the lack of protection that is in the government’s plan this year.”

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Read more: London parents and educators react to Ontario’s in-person learning plan

Despite these challenges and concerns relating to the Delta variant, both teachers say they’re glad kids can finally return to school in person.

“The kids need in-person (learning). They need each other, they need their teachers,” said Caldwell. “In visual arts, it’s super important for how we interact and develop technique.”

“It’s been a really big challenge (teaching online) because not everyone has instruments at home (or) their internet is spotty,” Short explained. “Even just the amount of tech challenges we’d have to deal with, (it’s) taken a lot of time away from learning.”

Read more: COVID-19: TVDSB outlines changes for 2021-22 school year

According to a survey conducted by the Thames Valley District School Board (TVDSB), around 95 per cent of 82,000 students surveyed indicated in June that they want to return to school in person in September.

The remaining five per cent, which is over 4,000 students, indicated they’d prefer virtual learning.

-With files from 980 CFPL’s Devon Peacock

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