Uncertain if it would be his last day ever in a public school classroom, Grade 12 student Kenneth Besyk planned to make Tuesday “as memorable as possible.”
Within the constraints of the COVID-19 pandemic, that meant making ample small talk with mask-wearing classmates before the final bell rang at Daniel McIntyre Collegiate Institute — signalling the end of in-person classes until at least May 30.
“I love coming to school. I love socializing with people. I love making new friends. It’s great just being with people and seeing everybody,” said Besyk.
Thousands of K-12 students who attend schools in Winnipeg and Brandon have shifted to remote learning for the rest of the month amid a growing number of virus cases, exposures in schools, and related staffing challenges.
The shift marks the third time since March 2020 that all students in Grade 7 and up, in the province’s two largest cities, have all had to learn from home. This time, there is reason to be hopeful it could be the last.
Besyk, 18, who lives in a hot spot, has a vaccine appointment booked for later this month.
Teachers at Daniel McIntyre and elsewhere in the city have been discussing the province’s immunization rollout in their classrooms in recent weeks. The province’s approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech shot for anyone aged 12 and up has since prompted further discussion.
Mark Dewar issued a challenge to educators over social media to talk about the vaccine, show students where to find accurate information, and share a personal story about getting the jab.
Dewar, who teaches at a high school in Winnipeg, said he’s surprised at the amount of misinformation his students have about the vaccine, including beliefs about blatant conspiracy theories, such as there being a microchip in the shot.
In addition to discussing critical thinking and media literacy, he recently livestreamed his vaccination to his students to show them what to expect.
“Throughout this pandemic, we’ve been told to stay home and not do things,” he said. “Finally, we have a chance to do something here: get informed about the vaccines, make decisions about the vaccines. We have a chance to do something, and I think a lot of students are excited at the chance of doing something positive to help.”
In the meantime, before a widespread rollout, Grade 11 twins Anaya and Adonaya Aftab said Tuesday they are in favour of a temporary remote learning period, even though they prefer in-class learning.
“It is affecting social life a bit — but, you know, at the end of the day, we have to keep ourselves safe to make the social life grow even more in future,” said Adonaya, 16. “We are hoping to get a normal senior year so we can graduate with good memories.”
Anaya said the duo has become more comfortable with online learning because of all the practise they have had with it this year. For the majority of the school year, the twins have attended half-days at Daniel McIntyre and done remote learning part-time.
The switch is more drastic for younger students in the city.
“They’re not going into it with bright eyes and bushy tails like the first time, where they thought, ‘This is going to be so easy, I’m going to spend all my time looking at a computer, I love computers,’” said Torrie Vicklund, a Grade 7 math and science teacher, who is also the mother of a middle schooler who will switch to remote learning today.
Vicklund polled her students this week and found they are ecstatic about the prospect of sleeping in, but are anxious about the inability to easily ask questions online and losing their social network again.
“It’s a real tough day for everybody. Everyone thinks that kids don’t want to do work, but the majority of kids love school and want to be here,” she said, adding students are worried classes won’t resume in June and there will be yet another consecutive anticlimactic end of the school year.
Maggie Macintosh, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Free Press