Back-to-school during COVID-19: Parents ready for routine

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Photo: Danielle Burns

Groups of Grade 1 children scramble into the schoolyard at École Saint-Fidèle in Limoilou on the first day of school.

COVID-19 is still with us, but a feeling of anticipation (maybe a few jitters) and joy was in the air on Aug. 28, the first day of school for students at French-language schools in Quebec City.

One mom happily chimed her satisfaction that kids would be “starting a routine.” The tear in her eye wasn’t from COVID worries but because her oldest child was starting Grade 1 and, thankfully, had been assigned to the same class as her neighbourhood friend.

Mira De Montigny felt apprehensive about her daughter’s first day in kindergarten during COVID. De Montigny told the QCT, “Sending your kid to kindergarten is so emotional because it’s a big step in her life, in our life! … My daughter is confident but nervous too. COVID or not, it’s stressful.” Last year, she went to English pre-K at Ste-Foy Elementary and “loved that school.” But with Bill 101, she’ll be going to a French school, Saint-Yves, so it’s a big change. “I am confident she will be OK. Thursday we saw a lot of friends she knew from camp or school. Friends make the difference. As a parent, . . . you want to stay calm and send a message that it’s fun and it’s part of a new life schedule. COVID is here and will go away. Everything will be fine,” she hopes.

De Montigny said that COVID precautions such as masks make school seem less friendly. She explained to her five-year-old that the mask is used in the halls; the teacher can remove hers in class and the rules are there to protect her. “For now, my daughter is not stressed about masks and I think that washing hands is a good thing to learn.”

The mom said COVID means no parent/teacher meetings at school, and all communications are by email. It also means long lines for dropping off and picking up children. Kids will eat lunch in the classroom with no cafeteria access. She finds it’s “understandable but sad” that there were no school visits for parents/new students. “That’s not the way it’s supposed to be.” She added that many extracurricular activities and field trips have been cancelled.

De Montigny said, “The first day I let my daughter go inside without us, it was heartbreaking. She cried a little and was stressed to go with a new teacher, in a new school. The staff and teachers were saying sorry with compassion.” The teachers even said they felt as if they were working in a hospital, with all the procedures. Overall, she is satisfied now with the new rules and reception on the first day. “I feel safe with them. The school is small and very clean.”

Bour Sapthaweesang has two children attending the same school: “Saint-Yves is really well organized. Florence, 7, went there for three weeks before summer and it went well. Children understand the distancing. They even played outside together but didn’t touch each other!” Parents seem reassured by the spring attendance (all high schools were closed), albeit in much reduced numbers, that saw kids back in class without a surge in COVID cases. The coming weeks will tell us if the 100 per cent back-to-school model will see infection rates rise.

Sinee, the mother of a Ste-Foy Elementary School student, is not anxious since her Grade 1 child Nicolas went back to school last spring. She is happy with the precautions taken, such as students bringing their own water bottles and using their own school supplies.

École Saint-Fidèle in Limoilou staggered entry times, starting at 8:10 a.m. By 8 a.m., the alley behind the elementary school was packed with eager parents and students. Principal Valérie Bilodeau, masked and using a loudspeaker, introduced school staff, many of whom wore costumes to add some pep to the rally. In the crowd of parents and children, only a few students in the younger grades wore masks (although it is recommended by the government). New measures require students in Grade 5 and up to wear masks when outside their classrooms.

Students did not return to Central Québec School Board schools in the Quebec City area until Tuesday, Sept. 1, after this issue of the QCT went to print. Look for another back-to-school article in the Sept. 9 edition.

 

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Grade 1 teacher Johanne Boily (centre) waves to students, along with student teacher Andréanne (left) and another staff member (right), all wearing antennae.  Photo by Danielle Burns

 

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Principal Valérie Bilodeau uses a loudspeaker to welcome students and give instructions at École Saint-Fidèle, which (contrary to the sign above the door) is no longer just for boys. Photo by Danielle Burns