By: Adriana Vicic –
The last days of June mark the end of the school in Ontario—normally a bittersweet time for teachers to say goodbye to the students they’ve seen all year while looking forward to the summer ahead.
But after months of uncertainty and online-learning hurdles since the COVID-19 pandemic closed schools in March, and still no clarity on what will happen in September, the last day school feels a little more bitter than sweet, this year.
“It’s not really a good goodbye,” said Jen Ongoro, a Grade 2 teacher at St. Peter Catholic Elementary school in Milton.
On the last day of school last year, Ongoro planned a dance party, a movie screening equipped with snacks, and a red and white Canada-themed dress-up day.
Though she has planned online activities for her 21 students, she said this year’s last day will be less eventful.
“We’ll have a class meeting at 10 a.m., if they can make it, and we’re going to watch a slideshow of pictures from the year and then I made a little award ceremony, each kid is getting an award, which are things I would’ve done anyways in school, but you would’ve made it more fun [in person].”
Ongoro said she feels like she missed out on a very crucial time for her students. Students usually grow the most during the last few months of the school year, she said.
“From January to March you get to see them start to develop, but March until June is when you see the kids getting ready for Grade 3, they have grown so much,” said Ongoro. “You just kind of miss that, and it’s not the same.”
Beth Schabla, a Grade 4 teacher at Ellengale Public School in Mississauga, has been working to make online learning more engaging and trying to incorporate the activities for her students that she would normally do in person.
However, she might not be able to keep her last-day-of-school tradition this year. Schabla likes to read the book “Oh the Places You’ll Go,” by Dr. Seuss as a send-off, but she won’t have access to the teaching resources left in the classroom.
Schabla said she felt like she’s been robbed of the times she was supposed to share with her students.
“With other years, it’s been like, ‘OK it’s been a good year and enjoy your summer,’ but now it’s just a weird feeling, I am kind of mourning the loss of what this year was,” said Schabla, who has been a teacher for 16 years. “We’re saying goodbye to something we never really got the chance to do.”
It is still uncertain what September will look like in classrooms across Ontario. Earlier this month, Education Minister Stephen Lecce announced the school boards will plan for in-person learning and parents will have the option to send their kids to school or to keep them at home for distance learning.
Schabla, who is set to teach a combination of grade 3 and 4 in September, has concerns over the students’ coming and going. Creating and maintaining a community is a key part of her classroom, she said.
“I am hoping we can go back, with as many of them as possible, but I am worried about the community,” said Schabla.
“And I don’t know how that’s going to look with some kids coming on different days or staying at home. That’s going to be the number one challenge—how to create that classroom community that is so important.”