Introducing “A Student” – ”My whole year has been turned on its head”

MAINSTREETER STAFF

Student A
In our October issue, The Mainstreeter introduced our readers to “Teacher X”, a long-serving Ottawa elementary school teacher who signed aboard to serve as an online teacher at the school board’s Virtual Academy. Her candid interview helped all of us to understand how virtual or online education is working in our kid’s schools, from a teacher’s perspective. We’ll catch up once again with “Teacher X” in our February 2021 issue.
For now, however, we’d like our readers to get to know “A Student”, our confidential name for a grade 10 high schooler who lives in Old Ottawa East and who has agreed to offer us her “take” on what it’s like to be a student this year during the pandemic. In this article and in a further one to follow in our April 2021 issue, you’ll come to learn why she says COVID-19 has turned her whole year “on its head”.

As a student during COVID times, “A Student” has had to face her fair share of changes to the usual school system.

At the moment, “A Student” attends school one day out of two, working from home on off days. There are two cohorts, and the other cohort attends school when she is at home. Instead of having four classes in a semester over a period of just over four months, she now has two classes lasting nine weeks. “My whole year has been turned on its head,” the student says. “It’s a completely new way of learning.”

“My days have definitely become duller,” she explains, “because instead of having four classes in a day, I have a single two and a half hour class in the morning and another in the afternoon. It’s tough to pay attention in the last bit of each class.”

She goes on to say that as much as teachers do their best to keep it interesting and dynamic, students are always exhausted by the end of the day. “It’s just so much information at once,” she explains. “It can be hard to keep track.”

For “A Student”, the challenging part is not the workload, but retaining all of the important information. “Things we would usually learn in two days, we now learn in one”, she says. The students focus more on the key information, learning only what is absolutely necessary. There are no extra projects, or as many fun activities. “I usually enjoy school, but it’s definitely an overload of things to learn this year.”

According to the 10th grade student, the most difficult part of online learning is staying motivated. Distractions from work abound. At her school, students at home are doing homework assigned by the teacher on in-school days. Some examples of at home assignments are reading part of a book, working on an essay, or completing a virtual worksheet. She says she usually has between three and six hours of work each day.

As with any situation, there are definitely some positives to this method of learning. “A Student” enjoys the days at home, because she gets to sleep in, and has learned new life skills such as a better work ethic, better work habits and organizational tools.

“I definitely enjoy working from home,” says “A Student”, “because I get to eat a better lunch, be home with my dog and do other important chores around the house. However, I would say that I enjoy in-person school more, especially for the small social interactions after being stuck in the house for so long. I tend to really like the classroom interactions.”

“A Student” also remarked on how much her social life has changed since the beginning of the school year. She explains that a lot of people, some of her friends included, have made the change to private schools, to schools closer to their homes or even to fully online learning. Her school has many specialized art concentrations, and some of them – voice and wind instruments – cannot even function anymore. Moreover, some of her friends are in the other cohort, meaning that they go to school on different days than her. “If I want to see my friends now, I have to see them after school or on weekends, all socially distanced, and outside, of course. However, with winter coming, this will be made much harder, I think.”

As to the procedures implemented in school, students use hand sanitizer before and after entering or leaving school buildings or classrooms. They clean their desks after each class. Social distancing is required at all times for teachers and students. “In one of my classes, I’m not even supposed to turn my head to look at the person behind me, because that would reduce the two metre gap,” she comments.

Bathroom breaks and snacks are scheduled. It is vital for all to wear masks at all times inside the classroom, except for snacks and lunch. Highschool students are allowed to leave the school at lunchtime, while 7th and 8th graders eat in their classrooms. “Lunchtime is where you see a lot of people not socially distancing themselves,” says “A Student”. “It’s definitely very difficult to stay responsible. We’ve been careful for months now and nothing bad has happened. People are tired of all of the rules.”

As with everyone during the pandemic, “A Student”’s life is drastically different. “I usually bike to school now,” she explains, “because my parents don’t feel comfortable with me taking the city bus. I get up a little later than usual on at home school days, because there’s not too much to prepare since I only have two classes and no extra-curriculars.”

“A Student” leaves us with these parting words: “All in all, I am happy to be learning and at school again. I miss my friends, but I enjoy spending time with them, even socially distanced. Online learning is definitely a challenge, but I am always finding new ways to cope with it.”

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