High School in the Time of COVID: How Schools are Adjusting to New Guidelines
The days of taking History from bed and wearing pajamas to Calculus are over. No longer can students wake up at 8:29 a.m. for their 8:30 virtual class. Thanks to new government guidelines, Quebec students and educators are now facing the joys and difficulties of adapting back into full-time, in-person school after a year-and-a-half of virtual or hybrid learning.
For high school students, back-to-school this year meant no more classroom bubble groups, the possibility to participate in extracurricular activities, and being in-person every day. Although still masked, new COVID guidelines allowed many aspects of pre-pandemic education to return.
During the 2020-2021 school year, secondary III, IV, and V students had classes in-person every other day, alternating with virtual days (secondary I and II students were in-person full-time). These virtual classes often took place on virtual meeting platforms like Zoom, Google Meet, and Microsoft Teams. Now, their classes are always in the school building.
High school students were also required to be in bubble groups on their in-person days. This meant that the same group of students stayed in the same classroom all day for every class, with their teachers coming to them, instead of switching classrooms each period. Now, students can move freely around the building from class to class.
For Candace Grynol, the Performing Arts Department Head and a drama teacher at St. George’s High School of Montreal, last year’s COVID restrictions greatly impacted her programs. “Last year, the way the schedule worked out, most of my classes ended up being virtual,” she recalled. “It was an interesting challenge to create and adapt a live theatre curriculum into a virtual platform, but we did it. The students were super positive and flexible which made it much more fun and less overwhelming,” she added.
In addition to teaching drama, Candace also directs the St. George’s glee club, G Major, and oversees the school’s musical and play. All three performances took place virtually, with G Major’s 2021 performance being postponed.
However, this year’s relaxed guidelines have allowed Candace to revive her department’s activities. She shared that, “All extracurricular activities last year had to be held virtually and this year we are able to be in person. We are hopeful that we will be able to have an audience as well. This change is great and so important for the mental health of the students.”
After the 2020-2021 school year’s rigid restrictions, returning to semi-normalcy required a bit of re-acclimation for students and faculty alike. After finally adjusting to the COVID restrictions of the previous school year, school communities have had to relearn and reteach functioning in school similarly to pre-pandemic life.
Secondary IV student Theo Frumovitz is thrilled with the new guidelines that he said create a “Normal year except we’re wearing masks.” When asked if he minds returning to in-person school after being able to be on Zoom, Theo commented that “I prefer going to school in-person so I don't mind - it's worth not being lazy.” He also touched on his excitement for “being able to see other people and not being stuck in the same group.”
For Paige Fairlie, a math teacher and soccer coach at St. George’s School of Montreal, part of her back-to-school adjustment has been finding balance. “I think my biggest thing is,” said Paige, “because there were no ECAs, it was just school work, meeting with students, and then I’d go home and have my ‘me time.’ This year, adding back into extracurriculars, my workday is going to be significantly longer. I think the ‘me time’ aspect is going to be lost…I need to find a work-life balance which I didn’t have before the pandemic and I’m learning to say ‘no’ at the right time, so it doesn’t affect how happy I am and how happy I am for my students.”
Nevertheless, Paige is hopeful for this school year and the changes it brings. When asked what she is most looking forward to, she simply stated, “Seeing the kids happy again.”
When the world suddenly changed in March of 2020, many educators stepped up to the plate with unwavering support for their students and colleagues. This support has spread throughout school communities, lifting up members in these unprecedented times. Many high school students and faculty members are simultaneously recovering from the events of the last year and a half while navigating these new changes. While this is a difficult feat, it sheds hope on the possibility of a return to pre-pandemic practices.