This story is part of Amy Bell’s Parental Guidance column, which airs on CBC Radio One’s The Early Edition.
I know that technically the new year starts on Jan. 1, but even as an adult I still feel like the start of the school year is the real marker of a full trip around the sun.
And even though I’m a long way past new duotangs and sparkling clean sneakers, this time of year still gives me a little shiver of excitement for what’s to come.
In no way am I trying to gloss over or minimize the very real concerns and misgivings many people have about the coming school year. I just want to take a moment amid everything else to embrace the possibilities and thrills that can come at the start of the school year.
This is the third year that COVID-19 has affected how schools operate. That’s a lot of change and uncertainty — and a lot of pressure — for teachers and students to deal with once again.
But high school math teacher Jacqueline Sheppet is feeling hopeful about the year ahead.
She says she knows and understands a lot of teachers and families were frustrated and disappointed with the restrictions last year — and many remain so this year over the lack of case notices, no vaccine mandate for teachers, and masks not being required for kids below Grade 4.
But Sheppet has chosen to focus instead on the positives that she’s seen come through in her students.
“They’re acutely aware that we had it actually quite good here. Many schools were closed or shifted to online… we didn’t have that here in B.C.,” says Sheppet. “Knowing that it was very special to be attending in person, I think kept their enthusiasm.
Of course, frustration and anxiety have been a huge factor for everyone since March 2020. Sheppet hopes parents and caregivers remember how much their fears and worries influence a child’s experience at school.
“We all know that our kids are sponges. They soak up that energy from the parent,” Sheppet says. “We have to remember that what we say will absolutely be taken on board and not necessarily in the most positive way.”
Leesa Friesen, a single mother of four girls — one in high school, one who just graduated and two attending post secondary — says she’s found that by acknowledging all their fears, her kids can better understand how they are feeling and that other people are feeling the same way.
“I said, ‘You know, your teachers have anxiety and stuff too … so let’s not add to their stresses and anxieties. It’s not just you, it’s everybody,'” says Friesen.
New year, new adventures
So, how are the kids feeling about the school year? Does the thrill of seeing friends and cracking open that new set of pencil crayons wear off fairly quickly?
It’s hard to give up weeks of sleep-ins and video games, and school can raise many issues aside from health concerns. But as adults, we sometimes forget what a big world school can be for kids, and how even the smallest things are worth celebrating.
I spoke with Vancouver twin sisters Lily and Fiona Cindric about heading into Grade 2 this year. Fiona is especially excited for all the new freedoms being a seven-year-old can bring.
“When I’m in Grade 2 I’m going to be able to go all around the school, and it’s going to be really fun that I can do some new stuff at recess time. I am also really excited for school so I can see all my friends again. It’s going to be super fun going back to school,” she says.
Even though this will be the first year the twins will be in separate classrooms, Lily already has her eyes on a certain teacher.
“Miss Williams, because she’s really nice. She’s also a twin like me and my sister,” Lily says.
North Vancouver student Kyla Filandysz is also eager to get going on her latest adventure, in Grade 6.
“I am going to a new school this year, late start French immersion, and I’m really excited for that,” Kyla says. “I just want a new start and I want to try something new. This is going to open a lot of opportunities. Everyone thinks I’m crazy for doing it!”
Will this school year go off without a hitch? No. But with all the new worries and concerns this long pandemic has taught us, we need to remember and celebrate the bright spots.
Along with reading and writing and science, we’ve taught our kids to be strong and kind — and these are lessons we can all remember this coming year.
And so, to this year’s class, along with your families and your teachers, I wish you the best of luck. Now go kick some butt in your classes while we keep working to kick COVID-19 to the curb.
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