Calgary high school students weigh in on bouncing from in-person to online learning

Spiking cases of COVID-19 and subsequent staffing shortages will drive over 80,000 students out of Calgary classrooms for at least two weeks starting Monday — and for some students, it represents just another curve ball in a pandemic year that has disrupted classes and social lives. 

As of Thursday, there were alerts or outbreaks at 478 schools, which represents 20 per cent of all schools in Alberta, with 2,772 cases in total.

It means that thousands of other students and staff are isolating due to being close contacts. 

And as the Calgary Board of Education and Calgary Catholic School District now prepare to hit pause on in-person classes for Grades 7 to 12, two high school students told the Calgary Eyeopener on Thursday what it has been like to bounce between online classes and in-person learning.

“With all the rising cases, I figured that something like this would happen again,” said Evangeline Dorval, 16.

She is a Grade 11 student at Bishop O’Byrne High School.

“[But] I was a little bit sad about it, just because I’m in some 30-level classes where I think being in class gives me the best learning experience.”

‘It hasn’t been too bad’

As of Thursday, there were 2,585 active COVID-19 cases among Albertans ages 10 to 19, and more cases among young people have been reported during this third wave of the pandemic than in previous waves. 

This makes it an especially stressful time to be a student, but Dorval said there have also been aspects of schooling that have improved. 

Last year, she spent almost her entire second semester in quarantine. At the time, teachers were still puzzling out the sudden shift to online learning, which added another layer of difficulty.

Now, Dorval said the familiarity with online learning has increased, and Zoom calls and video classes have run more smoothly.

“Even though it’s a little bit harder to stay focused at home, I do think that the teachers have been working with what’s been happening, and it hasn’t been too bad,” Dorval said.

‘It really is different’

But Grace Attalla, 18, who is in Grade 12 at Western Canada High School, said online learning still has a few fundamental drawbacks.

Students don’t have the usual convenience of turning to a friend for help if something doesn’t make sense, and some find it harder to learn that way to begin with, she said.

Grade 12 student Grace Attalla attends Western Canada High School, pictured, and has had to spend six of the past eight weeks in isolation because people in her class have had COVID-19. (CBC)

Plus, Attalla pointed out that not every student has the same resources — and it means some are not excited to spend  two weeks or more away from the classroom.

“Some people … don’t even have a desk, or high-speed internet,” Attalla said. “So I think … it really is different for a lot of different students.”

‘Pretty disheartening’

Compounding that complexity are the random, potential exposures to COVID-19 in the classroom, which can send some students home for weeks.

Dorval has not had to isolate this year, though students and friends all around her have.

But Attalla has had to spend six of the last eight weeks in isolation because people in her class have had COVID-19.

“It honestly just depends on your luck. Some of my friends haven’t been isolated once, other people have been isolated as many times as me,” Attalla said.

When it comes to the impact of the pandemic on mental health, Attalla said the isolation is when she feels it the most.

“I think it’s been harder than I expected … not seeing your friends for a while,” she said. 

“It is honestly … pretty disheartening, the last few days.”

And as a Grade 12 student, Attalla is hoping to get back to school so she can see her peers before they graduate and go their separate ways.

“I just really want to see all my friends, and especially my classmates, who you really only see at school,” she said. “I want to see them before I go to university.”

With files from Sarah Rieger and the Calgary Eyeopener.

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