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Photography by Melissa Tait/The Globe and Mail

Students in Ontario have been shut out of in-person learning more than any other province – and those hoping to return to school after this week’s April break learned Monday they will remain out of the classroom indefinitely.

Even before the latest province-wide measure was announced, students in hot spot areas such as Peel and Toronto had been ordered to learn from home as COVID-19 infections soared.

The Globe and Mail’s Dave McGinn spoke to five elementary school students from these areas about what this year has been like for them, and how they feel about returning, once again, to online learning.

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Asked how he feels about in-person classes being shut down again, Amar Rao-Murtaza says he's torn: Classes are 'really bad' with physical distancing in place, but he misses his friends. The Globe and Mail

Amar Rao-Murtaza, 10, Grade 5

I enjoy hanging out with my friends at recess. We usually play ball tag. This school year has been very bad. If I’m in Zoom or a Google Meet meeting I really don’t like it. I’m not able to see my friends in person. It also affects my mental health a lot. Virtual school is just really bad for my mental health because it makes me so isolated.

I have a bad anxiety problem. I start getting scared about really irrational things. For example, if I’m outside and it’s winter I get scared of getting hypothermia, but it’s only minus 10 degrees out there. I’ve had some panic attacks at school this year, but they were much less strong in school. My parents decided to home-school me because I have anxiety problems with virtual school.

I’m angry at a lot of the people who think the pandemic is over and there’s no risk any more of COVID when the rates are lower. That increases the transmission, which puts everything back up to the place where school is not able to be open. Recess would be ending right now if I was at school. I’d be playing with my friends.



'I've been feeling really annoyed,' Noah Campana, a Grade 8 pupil at Equinox Holistic Alternative, says of the cycle of lockdowns and reopenings. The Globe and Mail

Noah Campana, 13, Grade 8

My favourite things about being at school are seeing my friends and horsing around at lunch. It’s mainly the social interaction. That’s the big thing about it. It just annoys me that schools keep closing.

In March of last year they said it’ll be two weeks and it turned into four months of online school. February wasn’t the same but it went from two weeks to six weeks. This one really annoyed me, maybe more, because I thought I’d have a whole week in school and then we’d go to April break.

I hate virtual school. I’m a person who thrives off of social interactions. And it hurts my motivation to work. I don’t have anyone there saying, “Come on, Noah, just do your work.” I could probably just sit at my computer all day and stare at the screen. I force myself to do the work but it’s definitely a lot harder. My quality of work definitely goes down. I do things more at the last minute and I don’t put as much effort into them.

Mentally, it just makes me feel more isolated. I want people to know everything they do that breaches COVID rules impacts us. It all trickles down to schools.

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Aaliyah McFarlane sits outside Ingleborough Public School, whose outdoor activities she misses.

Aaliyah McFarlane, 12, Grade 7

School has been constantly changing this year. I originally wanted to go online and when I got a taste of online I quickly realized being in school was way better for me. I thought I would like it because most of my friends had been online.

But going to school is more social interactions. Gym class and extracurriculars were not through a video. I got outside more because of recess. It was overall better for my eyes, my physical health, my mental health, my overall well-being. It’s frustrating that we were told we’d be in school this week and then that changed.

I’d like one solid answer that’s not constantly changing because everything else has been constantly changing, whether it’s our class or our teachers or what we get to do. But one thing my teachers have been telling us this year is that you have to remain optimistic and look on the brighter side of things. Not having to wear a mask all day and getting to eat warm food, instead of food out of containers, is always a good thing. But on the flip side, everything is changing and I’ve learned not to expect anything at this point.



Sese Smith, shown outside D.A. Morrison Middle School, says he's been 'really frustrated because my education's been turned upside down.' The Globe and Mail

Sese Smith, 11, Grade 6

Pre-COVID I liked to just hang out with my friends and not have to worry about attracting a potentially deadly disease. That was nice. For the first month or two of school this year it was rough. I wasn’t used to having to social distance and that stuff. But once you get used to it, it wasn’t a big deal.

As for the inconsistency of sometimes doing online school, sometimes doing in-person, that was so frustrating. I’m fine online. I don’t find it much different, except it’s safer. It’s just frustrating having to go in between so quick. It’s just out of nowhere. I was a bit exasperated when I found out schools were closing because this has been a long time coming. Our numbers have been in the 3,000s.

Education-wise, having to do online learning hasn’t affected me much. Life as a whole has just been a lot more stressful and exasperating. The one thing I don’t really like about online learning is that it’s much harder to socialize. I definitely get frustrated and lonely and bored. Some of the time it’s okay because I can still talk to my friends on Discord.



James McLellan plays on a railing at his closed school. He says he wishes the province had just shut everything down fully for two weeks so cases could have decreased.

James McLellan, 9, Grade 3

This year is really confusing. In online, nobody really listens. Usually all my friends just turn their camera off and watch YouTube or something because it’s so boring and they don’t understand anything. And it gives us work that we’ve already done. It’s so confusing online.

I like being at school because I can see my friends in person. And I get to play more. Online you just sit there and watch the screen. I just turn my camera off and start jumping on my bed. I just try and do something fun. Having to keep doing online again and again is terrible.

When I found out we are going back to online school again I was mad. There’s only one thing good about online: gym. Our teacher makes us sit down, but when you do gym you do exercises and things that are actually fun.



Pointers for parents on supporting your teen

Pandemic restrictions mean teens aren’t able to develop the same independence and connections that usually occur at this stage of life. Dr. Joanna Henderson with Youth Wellness Hubs and the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health gives some advice for parents on how to support them. The Globe and Mail

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