It’s back to school and the third year of learning in a pandemic environment for students. CNS photo/Kevin J. Parks, Catholic Review

Resiliency tested in third pandemic school year

By  Angelica Vecchiato, Youth Speak News
  • September 22, 2021

As students returned to school this month, they were confronted by the challenges of yet another scholastic year marred by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since the original lockdown at the pandemic’s outset in March 2020, school boards across Canada have implemented a bevy of adaptations and alternatives to in-person learning, leaving students to cope with the realities of online school, hybrid models, masking and social distancing.

Although students have returned (for now) to fully in-person classes for the 2021-22 school year, reflecting back, Amanda Cerisano’s high school career materialized into an experience she could not have imagined.

“My high school years, which were supposed to be the ‘best years of my life,’ are wasted. I am never going to get these years back,” said Cerisano. “For the most part, I couldn’t even see friends or family. Since I hadn’t been able to see anyone in-person, I felt like I didn’t need to progress or improve myself, making me sad and unmotivated.”

The COVID-19 story of this Grade 12 student at Loretto Abbey Catholic Secondary School in Toronto rings true for many students, including 15-year old Emilio Pileggi.

“Online school heightened my anxiety 50 times, especially if I wasn’t doing well in a class. Since all the structure from school was gone, it threw me into chaos. I did anything I could do, without doing anything I should do,” said Pileggi, who is currently navigating his Grade 11 year at Toronto’s Chaminade College School.

While a lack of face-to-face interactions severely impacted learning and instruction, Damiano Femia, the co-chaplain of Loretto Abbey alongside his twin brother Cosmo, has witnessed the adaptability of students.

“As much as we can love technology, we still need to have that social interaction,” said Femia. “However, youth will build resiliency. I noticed that the faith formation became much stronger, helping students to alleviate stress through prayer. Without faith, I wouldn’t have known how to address my class. Journeying together, the only certain thing we had was God. He helped us through it.”

Cerisano agrees that her faith life grew at the same time as her mental health worsened. 

“My faith progressed during the pandemic, especially with all the mental health dips. I think about God every day,” she said. “Any time I am in a bad mood, I take the rosary beside my bed and kiss the cross. Honestly, whenever there is hardship, I always seek out God — He is the first being I look to, to make me feel better and calm me down.”

Femia modified his teaching style to help support the needs of his students during this unprecedented period.

“I was teaching six sections of math fully online last year, but the curriculum came second,” he said. “There was more of a focus on how I could meet my students where they are. If they had a family member that has passed away due to COVID, we would pray for them in class. It was almost like a mutual survivor mode for teachers and students. After all, if God brings you to it, He will bring you through it.”

For Pileggi, the key to “getting through it” is looking at the future through an optimistic lens.

“Stay in there with a positive attitude. If your attitude goes to the negative side, you go down a rabbit hole. You just have to remember that things will get better.”

(Vecchiato, 17, is attending Grade 12 at Loretto Abbey Catholic Secondary School in Toronto.)

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