Speaking Out: Unprecedented school challenges

By  Kathleena Henricus, Youth Speak News
  • October 16, 2020

If there are teachers or students in your life, I urge you to pray for them because this school year is nothing like anything anyone has seen before.

This time last year, students roamed the halls, hung out with friends, experienced different classrooms and even shared pens and pencils — acts that are now unthinkable. Many students returned to a hybrid in-person and virtual experience this September following six months away from the classroom, while many continue to learn in a fully remote environment.

Just six weeks into the new school year, students are dealing with all the typical school stressors on top of navigating a crowded environment with daily COVID-19 cases and seven-day averages surpassing the first wave’s peak.

With news cycles and hours of air time dedicated to discussing young adults’ lack of concern over social distancing and preventive measures, it may be difficult to imagine students losing sleep over the school day. That’s an incorrect take: it is incredibly stressful and draining for many.

While administrators do their best to make school a safe environment, the act of even showing up is already an act of noncompliance to many of the rules set forth by governments across the country. Our nation’s top health-care professionals advise a distance of two metres should be maintained between people to ensure safety, but school doors and hallways have not been built to meet those standards. We’re advised to halt interaction with people from outside of our households, yet we attend class two or three times a week with hundreds of other students.

Very few students have been forced to couple the stress of a full course load alongside adhering to unnatural health and safety protocols. We confront these stresses without the reprieve of lunch with friends or even a smile from someone down the hallway. This daily reality takes a mental and emotional toll on everyone.

Echoing student sentiments across the country, COVID-19 has taken away the best parts of school and left us all barely hanging on. The decision to allow students to return to school was made, in part, based on the harmful impact isolation has made on the mental health of students. Yet, many are still feeling the same social disconnect, on top of the additional health risks.

For students and teachers, there is little to look forward to at this juncture. Students are already mourning the potential loss of 2021 graduation, social events, prom and other significant educational milestones. Events and future memories that enlivened classes of the past now serve as a stark reminder of everything we don’t get to have. It’s the mix of disappointment and guilt, of feeling disappointed for losing something that seems so trivial in a time like this. It’s only a snapshot of the turbulent emotions students are striving to keep at bay during their hours-long classes and lectures.

Canadian education, and the individuals currently experiencing it, are at the breaking point. Never have we called so much upon teachers and students, with so little to support them with or help navigate the minefield that is education in 2020.

Speaking as a student, there is not much more we can handle. Serious, immediate changes need to be made to the expectations and structure of pandemic education. Students, parents and teachers alike are striving to foster learning among the chaos of daily life.

On behalf of students across the country, I urge you to do your civic and Catholic duty to prevent a continuing rise in COVID-19 infections. Remain physically distanced, wear a mask and adhere to all health guidelines and ordinances. You are called to do so by your faith, government officials and the students who will be the leaders of tomorrow.

(Henricus, 17, is a Grade 12 student at Cawthra Secondary School in Mississauga, Ont.)

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