Hugs, smiles and photo ops abounded as some Red Deer students got an early start Wednesday to what all hope will be the first “normal” school year since 2020.
It was not only the students at the K-9 St. Patrick’s Community School who were eager to be back, said Principal Mandy Reed as she greeted students and parents outside.
“The first day of school we’re always so excited,” said Reed. “Most of us didn’t sleep last night because we were looking forward to our kids being here.”
For the first while in a long time, there was not a mask in sight.
All have fingers crossed that the worst of the pandemic is over and there will be no need to return to health restrictions that led to so many changes in school routines and on multiple occasions saw in-person schooling at many schools temporarily halted for long stretches.
The lessons of the pandemic have not been forgotten, however.
Reed says extra steps to boost cleanliness remain in place. Students will be encouraged to keep their hands and desks cleaned.
“We make sure we have mid-day cleaning and the kids are washing their hands,” she said, adding hand sanitizer is readily available everywhere.
It is hoped that those measures will help keep, not only COVID-19 at bay, but other bugs, such as flu viruses, that routinely circulate through schools.
Since 1998, St. Patrick’s has been a year-round school, meaning its 550 students return to class almost a month earlier than those in other schools, but they have longer breaks at other times during the school year.
Reed Said it’s popular with both families and staff. “We actually surveyed our families and staff last year and 95 per cent wanted to keep it.
“They love the breaks that come with it because kids get tired with the routine, and so do our staff. It’s a natural break to recharge and come back full of energy for our kids.”
Doris Esquivel, who was dropping off her Grade 4 daughter Natalie, is optimistic about the coming year.
“We’re very positive. We hope this year is more normal than last year and the couple of years we have been through,” she said. “We’re expecting a good year this year.”
Kelly Rose was with her son Cole, who is going into Grade 1, and she too hopes it will be a return to a more normal school environment.
“The kids love being back in school, and without masks. It’s just normal. It’s way better,” Rose said.
The family coped pretty well last year despite the pandemic. “It wasn’t too bad. They didn’t want to wear the masks at all, so that was a bit of a struggle.
“But they got to come (to school) the whole time. It wasn’t like the year before when they were at home. That was really hard.”
Rose said the all-year schooling schedule works well.
“I love it because they’re ready to come back. And it makes it a lot easier for a working parent who can’t get the full summer off. You can only ask grandparents to do so much,” she added.
“It’s really nice to come back early and we get longer breaks during the year, where it’s easier to ask for that vacation time. I find you get more time with your kids that way.”
Nikita Glover said her four children, aged 15, 11, eight and six, rose to the challenge of learning during a pandemic when the ground rules changed frequently.
“I have really good kids. So I was pretty lucky that they all helped each other through the school work because I was definitely not good at it,” she said with a laugh.
Glover is also a big fan of year-round schooling. Returning to school after a shorter break means there is less refreshing required to get students back into learning mode. As well, the additional time off at Christmas and during spring break allows more opportunity to take trips during the school year.