Back-to-School 2020

Like most other aspects of 2020, back-to-school has been full of firsts. As I alluded to in a previous post, we have chosen to homeschool Oli. I'll be writing a lot more about that choice, curriculum, and our experience in the future, so for now I'll just say it's proven to very much have be the right choice for his unique learning pace and our family. 

The girls began grades 2 and 5 last week at our regular local school, which is 100% French. I'm often asked how our kids read so well in French and how they became bilingual, and I assure you, I had very little to do with it. The teachers and fellow students did it all! We simply sent them to French school. In Quebec this is the de facto option for most families though Canadian Anglophone families have the right to send their children to English school if they choose. We had the choice between English and French and we chose French. Though English schools have some French, they don't produce bilingual graduates (though I'm sure there are exceptions), and being fluent in French was very important to us. Brad and I both learned French in our 20's and it's been an uphill (though worthy!) journey, so we wanted to give our kids the chance to learn young. By being fully immersed in French education, the kids were all fluent in French by the beginning of grade 2, if not sooner. That said, all three are bilingual and Oli is still receiving a French education, albeit at home. 

For the girls, going back to school after six months off was very exciting and even Chloe, who sometimes hesitates about school, was thrilled to be back. I know schools everywhere are handling Covid-19 very differently, so I can only speak to our unique experience in Montreal when I say we feel very safe sending our girls back to public school. The rules at the girls' school are as follows:

  • Students over 10 must wear a mask at all times, except in the classroom (during recess, when approaching and leaving school, in the hallways, in the bathrooms)
  • Students under 10 do not need to wear a mask at all, though it is recommended - Chloe wears one
  • Each classroom is considered a "bubble" meaning the group are exposed to one another's germs but no one else's. This means they're together in class, for gym, and at recess, and not exposed to other classes (the school yard is divided into separate areas for recess and classes don't do joint activities as they normally would)
  • Parents must wear a mask for pick up and drop off
  • Teachers wear masks everywhere except the classroom
  • Borrowed books from the classroom are put in a "quarantine" for several days before they're lent out again
  • Students no longer change for gym class, so on gym days they're asked to wear athletic clothing and shoes
  • Water fountains are no longer in use, so students bring water bottles (most already did)
  • Students must eat lunch at their desk, which is 2 metres away from every other desk. Our girls eat lunch at home every day, which is new this year.
I won't lie, sending them to school on the first day clad in masks felt surreal and a bit unnerving, but two weeks in and it's completely normal to us. I think as adults we find it more upsetting than kids because we have 30 or 40 years of experience without wearing a mask, but I've found our kids have been incredibly resilient and that seems to be the general vibe at school too. Masks have become a cute accessory. Every kid carries extras in their backpacks and it's become a fun activity to choose what mask the girls will wear each day (we have quite a collection now - some from small businesses, others from big box stores) If your child hasn't started school yet, you'll just have to trust me, it does begin to feel normal. Kids are highly adaptable and the teachers are doing an incredible job to make the classroom a comforting and calming environment despite the new rules. 

In all, it's felt very different this year, but that back-to-school excitement is still a real thing and the pandemic hasn't blunted it. Kids are still making friends, learning to read, and dividing fractions. Teachers are still connecting with students, working their magic, and establishing a classroom ethos. As parents, I think it's on us to carefully communicate our hesitations or frustrations in this season, because our kids really will be fine, though they're definitely shaped by our narrative. I'll admit I didn't do the best job of this during distance learning in the Spring, but I'm determined to do better this Autumn. Of course it's early days and the girls haven't even had any homework yet, but we're all feeling quite good about this school year :)

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