Summer break was underway and yet, for the first time in a long time, Anne Santos was eagerly getting ready to go to science class — a welcome slice of normalcy for the 17 year old, even if it meant studying in a stuffy school building in July.
"I was definitely anxious because I’m not familiar with this school, so I was like, ‘Oh no, what if I get lost?’ But I was also excited, because I’m back inside a building again and can actually socialize with people and talk to the teachers more easily," said Santos, who is enrolled in summer school to lighten her Grade 12 workload at Sisler High School in the fall.
The Winnipeg School Division is reporting a spike in enrolment for its annual July program at Grant Park High School. In the wake of an unconventional school year that ended with e-learning, nearly 200 students in the city have signed up to spend part of their holidays in a physical classroom to either repeat a course or get a head start for September.
The phone lines in the summer session office were ringing constantly as parents called in to make 100 per cent sure courses were being held in-person before classes began Wednesday, said Shaun Bright, vice-principal of the program.
"We’ve got a way bigger uptake this year; I think there was just a lot more interest and necessity for the in-person classrooms. Students had such a weird year, with the remote and in-person and then remote, back and forth," said Bright.
There are more than 33 in-person courses being held at Grant Park until the end of July. Overall, the summer session enrolment has increased by 75 per cent, in comparison to 2020 figures.
Masks remain mandatory if physical distancing is not possible, bright-yellow arrows still line the hallway floors to direct traffic and tubs of hand sanitizer can be found on every table, but the in-class offerings are a promising sign to staff and students alike.
As planning gets underway for next year, teacher Linsey Piel-Glade argues it’s important for there to be a slow and careful re-introduction to "regular school" that takes students' anxieties into account.
"We need to be a little more forgiving and gentle with kids because of everything that’s been going on. Some of them have really been thriving with remote learning and it’s been wonderful, and others have really struggled," said Piel-Glade, who is teaching high school math at Grant Park this month.
"There’s lots of talk of how kids are going to be behind and they’re going to be missing things and having gaps in their learning — but it’s a global pandemic."
Tech issues, device access and motivation have all been key challenges for students studying at home in recent months.
"We need to be a little more forgiving and gentle with kids because of everything that’s been going on. Some of them have really been thriving with remote learning and it’s been wonderful, and others have really struggled." – Linsey Piel–Glade who is teaching high school math at Grant Park this month
"When you’re in school you can raise your hand and ask a question; when you’re online, maybe you have to schedule a Zoom meeting — it’s not as easy as just staying after class," said Dan Latimer, 16, who is taking Grade 12 chemistry at summer school.
While Latimer said e-learning forced him to be more self-motivated, independent and organized, he is relieved to finally be back in a classroom with a small group of peers.
Chemistry teacher Danny Gomes said his students have repeatedly told him how grateful they are to be back, and educators feel similarly.
Something as simple as being able to meet friends to get lunch at McDonald’s between classes makes a huge difference to students and their engagement levels, he said.
For many students, the unpredictability of school over the last 16 months has sparked realizations about how valuable traditional schooling truly is for their academic learning, social lives and overall well-being.
Remote learning has undoubtedly taken a toll on student relationships and mental health, said Ayesha Raza, a 16-year-old who returned to class this week after nearly a year-and-a-half of virtual instruction.
Raza opted to take independent virtual courses through Manitoba’s online high school in 2020-21. Upon her return to in-class learning, she said there is a notable, positive difference in classroom culture.
"People are more considerate of each other in the classroom," she said. "No one talks over each other anymore, and it’s... kinder."
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.