Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
Just$1.99
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Cancel Anytime
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to globeandmail.com
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(select.open)}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](select.open),dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

A cleaned classroom at Hastings Elementary school in Vancouver, on Sept. 2, 2020.

JONATHAN HAYWARD/The Canadian Press

Catherine Monias can’t wait for the day she sees the buses pull up outside her office and the kids from her remote Manitoba First Nation stream back into the hallways following months of their schools being forced closed by COVID-19.

But it will be slightly different for the children from the Garden Hill First Nation, a fly-in community about 600 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg. Monias said education leaders have had to make one of the toughest decisions since the pandemic began: all students will be repeating their grade in the coming school year.

“It’s been rough,” said Monias, the Indigenous community’s education director.

Story continues below advertisement

“This year, with the full lockdown, we feel like we didn’t accomplish the grade level that they should be in for the next school year.”

Educators across the country are making plans to have students return to classes full time next fall. Many parents are worried what more than a year of disrupted schooling has meant for their children.

Experts say kids’ social and emotional needs and patience with academic achievements will be paramount when classroom doors reopen.

“They have just lived through something that is unprecedented,” said Tracy Vaillancourt, an education professor at the University of Ottawa, who specializes in research on children’s mental health.

“They are going to need a bit more care and attention than they have in the past.”

Vaillancourt is working with others on a report about the pandemic’s effects on children. The team recently warned the Ontario government that “we are on the cusp of a generational catastrophe.”

Kids have been in and out of classrooms as waves of infection caused school shutdowns. Many have moved to online or remote classes, but that’s not possible everywhere, and even that option is not always ideal.

Story continues below advertisement

Back in Garden Hill, Monias knows well how the families of about 1,200 students struggled when the elementary and high school first were closed in March 2020.

She is raising three school-aged grandchildren following the death of her son.

Many of her grandchildren’s classmates didn’t have access to laptops, tablets or smartphones. Monias researched the cost of getting laptops to kids that needed them. It would have been more than $1.2 million.

Even for children who did have the technology, the internet bandwidth in the community is too weak to broadcast classes successfully.

The First Nation’s students went back to classes last fall, but that ended soon after as infection rates surged. The military flew in to help get spread of the virus under control and the schools were turned into isolation centres.

“These last 15 months have been harrowing,” Monias said.

Story continues below advertisement

Teachers handed out educational packages door to door, but Monias said it became clear that if they wanted the kids to have their best foot forward by graduation, they needed to hold them back.

“I want to see my people prosper and be in good health and my community to prosper.”

Vaillancourt said she has not heard of any other schools making the same choice, but added that Garden Hill’s situation is unique and leaders there know what’s best for those students.

Educators for decades have tended not to have students repeat a grade, because it’s felt that can create stigma for the child in the classroom later on, she said.

What’s of utmost importance right now, she said, is giving children stability and supporting their mental well-being. That is unlikely to be achieved if they stay in the same grade, she suggested.

“If we focus on their social and emotional needs first, and get them well and healthy and ready to learn, they are going to catch up pretty quickly.”

Story continues below advertisement

Laurie French, president of the Canadian School Boards Association, said a one-size-fits-all strategy won’t work in most cases. She doesn’t expect to see many other schools following Garden Hill’s lead.

“We need to consider each student’s situation ... and what is the right choice for them,” said French, who added she disagrees with those who say the school year has been a write off.

She encourages parents to talk with teachers and school boards if they are worried.

Boards also need to work with public health partners, French said. All plans needs to be geared to meet the needs of kids in a specific community.

The pandemic has underscored disparities in education for children who are marginalized, living in racialized communities or whose schools can’t afford to purchase computers or tablets, she said.

“The gap has widened during this.”

Story continues below advertisement

Schools also need to look at what changes during the pandemic have worked, French suggested.

Some students have thrived learning online and classes that wouldn’t have been an option were available.

“Before we rush back to normal, let’s really think about what normal we really want to rush back to.”

Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies