As Caralena Greene logged off Google Classroom for the final time this year, the sixth-grader was not overcome with the same kind of excitement that typically accompanies the last day of school.
A sign-off is not quite the same as walking out of school with a pile of projects in hand and classmates at one’s side, after the final bell signals the start of summer break.
The 12-year-old said she will also miss her routine, although she is looking forward to spending the coming months cooling off in her backyard pool and being with her family.
"I was sad because school was something to do during the pandemic because we can’t really go places," said Caralena, who attended the last of her virtual classes at Starbuck School this week.
While much of the last 10 months have been marked by uncertainty and social isolation, academics have been one of few constants for students in 2020-21 — even though motivation challenges and technological glitches have been abundant.
Topping the list of credits at the bottom of Caralena’s end-of-year reflection assignment in June was Mrs. Wuerch — her homeroom teacher, "for giving me this assignment and continuing to teach us and help us learn throughout the pandemic."
Also on her list of people who deserve a thank-you: family, for their constant support; friends who FaceTimed; her Irish dance teacher, for hosting virtual classes; dedicated essential workers; scientists who discovered a COVID-19 vaccine, and the province, for creating public health restrictions.
Teacher Jodie Wuerch straddled a "fine line" when discussing the pandemic in her Grade 5-6 class this year. The educator of more than 20 years said she had to balance teaching restrictions, including a ban on talking at lunchtime when masks were off to eat, while not frightening students.
"The first and foremost thing we talked about always was their safety, my safety, everyone’s safety, and so, at the beginning of the year, we were pretty firm about the guidelines," she recalled Wednesday, the last designated instructional day of 2021-22. "But I had to be very careful when I was talking about case numbers and deaths and things like that, because anxiety levels for students went up a lot this year."
Starbuck, located 40 minutes southwest of Winnipeg, was one of at least 556 schools in Manitoba that recorded one or more exposures. Wuerch counts her class lucky because their cohort was never affected. They did, however, have to switch to remote learning for the last six weeks of the year, owing to rising case numbers in the rural region.
Tasked with keeping students engaged in June — a trying job when they are within eyesight, let alone learning remotely, Wuerch assigned a writing project to ask students to reflect on their experiences with virtual school.
Her pitch? "You guys are making history right now because you’re going to school at home through a worldwide pandemic and this is something that you will want to tell your children about in the future, and your grandchildren."
Caralena compiled a 15-page Google Doc, featuring a summary of pandemic pastimes and lessons learned. She wrote about the "scary, saddening, and life-changing events" she lived through, Wi-Fi challenges, and discovering focusing strategies, such as using fidget toys, in order to do work and relieve stress. She plans to print a copy to put in a box with other items to preserve 2020-21 memories.
She will also hold onto her new tech skills and email etiquette, gained from an unusual Grade 6.
"I’ll probably look back on it as a really challenging time, where I went through a lot of self-growth," she said. "I’m a perfectionist and I had to learn how to not be perfect because I couldn’t control everything that was happening."
Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.