AnnaMaria Amato.

Students hopeful semblance of ‘normal’ will return

By 
  • December 2, 2021

AnnaMaria Amato is hopeful that a normal graduation ceremony might be possible at the end of the 2021-22 school year.

Half the tenure of the Grade 12 student at Toronto’s Madonna Catholic Secondary School has been severely affected by the pandemic already and she hopes for something close to normal for her final days of high school.

The path to normalcy is making inroads, with the announcement by the Ontario government that the regular semester system will be restored in February. Catholic educators and students are optimistic this could signal even greater movement back to a more typical school structure in the new year.

Secondary schools will resume a daily four courses timetable model starting in term two. High schools had transitioned to a two subject a day model during pandemic learning to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. With classes running two-and-a half hours in length, the two subjects are alternated from week to week, causing a less than ideal gap in learning.

As a senior student, Amato was fortunate to experience her first two years of high school in the pre-pandemic world. The modifications have put a lot stress on all students but especially Grade 12s who are applying to colleges and universities, says Amato. For core academic subjects, languages and math in particular, the system created a stressful situation for teachers and youth working to absorb large amounts of content with none of the normal breathing room to process and work through challenges over the course time span. Though the switch back to the regular model will be another adjustment, the change is more than welcome.

“I'm definitely looking forward to the switch back regular semesters,” said Amato. “For my last year, I would say that we’re fortunate that there’s a possibility of us getting everything that a normal Grade 12 class would get (regular semesters, graduation etc.)

“It's definitely a scary thought because it's been so long since it's been normal and thinking about four classes in one day is kind of overwhelming at first, but I'm sure once we get back into like the swing of things, it'll be okay.”

As president of the God Squad, a Catholic leadership group at the school, Amato and her peers have been helping to keep student spirt and faith high through monthly liturgies, posters and bulletins.

School chaplaincy lead and art and photography teacher Annalisa Crudo-Perri says the strong legacy of Madonna CSS has continued over the past two years despite all the challenges. The all-girls school founded by the Faithful Companions of Jesus is celebrating 58 years this year under the motto of "Faith, Charity and Justice.” This year, through the chaplaincy, the school took on the challenge to live and show their faith more explicitly promoting the theme of WWJD (What would Jesus Do?) to encouraging students to lean into their faith through any difficulties.

“I think what we try to do is instil the tenets of faith, charity and justice and telling them we are sisters,” said Crudo-Perri. “I call them my sisters because that's who we are in our (school) family. We're sisters in one another and our community. We’re letting them know we’re here for them and supporting them.”

A parent of two who is also executive director of OAPCE (Ontario Association of Parents in Catholic Education), Crudo-Perri has been resolute on ensuring supports are in place for parents as well. Under the theme of ”Rebuilding our Resiliency as Parents,” on Nov. 20 OAPCE presented two live webinars that engaged parents in seeking out good outcomes where problems were to be expected. 

Parents who can cope with the stresses of everyday life have the flexibility and inner strength to bounce back when things are not going well, says Crudo-Perri. By providing spiritual and emotional supports to parents and supports to students in school, through Catholic education, Crudo-Perri aims to foster a supportive environment for students to continue to grow and thrive despite the many transitions.

“I hate using that back to normal word, but we try to give them as much normalcy as possible by just letting them be who they are as students in this crazy time,” said Crudo-Perri. “For a lot of them, coming to school is still the only place that they are allowed to go to right now so while they're here we just we have to impact them and give them that opportunity to let them be themselves and grow.”

For Amato, the support of the school community has been integral through the ups and downs of pandemic learning. In the ever changing global situation she is careful not to get her hopes too high about going “back to normal” classes in the new year but is grateful things appear to be moving in the right direction.

“We’re just taking it one day at a time and really just trying to get through it,” said Amato. “I hope that doesn't turn around and I hope that we do go back to semesters with four classes in February.”

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