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The view from the playground

Oliver school students talk about their feelings
about returning in-person classes

Thanks to the Omicron variant, the schoolyard at Oliver School is deserted most days. (Emilie Lavoie)

By Emilie Lavoie

IT’S A FRIDAY afternoon and there is a chill in the air. Snowflakes float down onto the heads of two Grade 7 girls, who linger on the snow-caked baseball diamond of a west end school. They walk slowly, heads together, sharing each other’s company.

Their voices overlap, as they talk about their feelings about returning to in-person classes. Sometimes, they even finish each other’s sentences.

“I can’t learn anything there, because the teachers only explain a little bit,” Lulya says of online learning. (The girls asked that their names be withheld.)

Hasini jumps in: “Yeah, not much.”

Lulya cuts her off: “Plus, I’m too shy to speak.”

Hasini agrees: “Yeah, me, too. In school, we get to do partner work with our friends, and we learn better from doing that. We just don’t want online classes again.”

“In-person is amazing, but the masks are the worst.”

“ … and sanitizing.”

“They give us too much sanitizer!”

“ … it smells so bad.”

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In a recent study by ScienceDirect, researchers confirmed that, when forming behavioural and emotional engagement, relationships with both teachers and other students are vital for school children – and the vulnerable and marginalized ones are more likely to be affected.

Oliver School’s guidelines to protect students from COVID-19 are to distance them from one another as much as possible, with staggered entering and exiting. Cohorts are limited to a class and its teacher.

Hasini and Lulya (who asked that their last names be withheld) say there is no shortage of masks and sanitizer.

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Kerri Campbell watches her daughter go down the slide and clambers back up again. The Oliver School playground is all but deserted, but a few children have stayed around to enjoy the snow.

Along with other Edmonton schools, Oliver School reopened for in-person classes in January. (Emilie Lavoie)

“In person, kids are happier, 100 per cent,” Campbell says, eyes on her daughter, “Of course, I’m worried that she may get [COVID] and repercussions of it. Overall, I think it’s worth it to me for her to be in school.

“The school seems really safe; they take every precaution possible, and I feel very comfortable bringing them back.”

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The effects of COVID aren’t always easy to gauge, says Dr. Daphne Korczak, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children.

“We found that, over all, children were faring mostly worse, and occasionally better, compared to their pre-pandemic selves.

“We also found that the mental health impacts of the pandemic were greater for school-aged children during the first lockdown, underscoring the importance of in-class learning and extracurricular activities for children.”

◊ ◊ ◊

Grade 7 student Ruby is waiting with her grandmother for her younger sister to get out of class. Parents, carpools and siblings of all sizes and genders stand in little one and two-person islands two metres apart in the field outside .

“I prefer in-person,” Ruby says (she also asked that her name not be revealed.) “Some aspects of at-home I prefer, but mostly in person.”

When children spill out of the school, the yard erupts into excited chatter.

Speaking louder over the din, Ruby says she likes some aspects of the online classes.

“You get to control your schedule a bit more because it’s not following a strict order of when to do things. You just have to get it in by your due date.”

A girl with curly blonde hair rockets across the field and launches herself onto Ruby.

Recovering from her sister’s assault, Ruby says the reason she likes in-person classes is that “it’s more social.”

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