Garden City Collegiate’s mental health club (called "Mind over Matter") recently held a week of activities for students feeling anxious, including meditation, self-affirmation and goal-setting techniques.
The initiative was much-needed at the time, principal Tony Kreml said Monday — but may have become particularly crucial, considering Sunday’s announcement all schools in Winnipeg and Brandon would close and transfer to remote learning, sending K-12 students home until at least May 30.
The atmosphere at his Winnipeg school is one of resigned acceptance, Kreml said.
There’s an understanding the decision has been made in the name of public safety, but some disappointment from the students who are losing one of the last opportunities to interact with fellow students and teachers outside of a video screen.
"I think it’s the humanity of the work that we do as a public high school," Kreml said. "We thrive on social interactions… When everything’s distanced, I’m not suggesting that all of that’s shut down but it’s definitely different and doesn’t have that same feel."
Some students who have come to him with concerns about struggling academically under remote learning will now be faced with those problems again, Kreml said.
Concerns as students pack their bags this week don’t end on the academic front. In-person school, along with in-person extracurricular activities (also axed as per Sunday’s announcement by the province), are safe spaces at Garden City Collegiate, and the connections made through friendships and staff can be a respite for a student facing troubles elsewhere.
"There’s the academic learning that we all know happens within schools, that this is one of our goals," Kreml said.
“I was pretty upset, but not for the reason you would expect: I was upset that there wasn’t going to be exams." — Maples MET school Grade 11 student, and self-declared introvert, Zachary Ireland
"But when we’re talking about personal safety, and social, emotional safety, particularly in adolescents (who are) growing up and finding their place in the world, taking some challenges — I know for many of the students, the safety nets that they have in place here, at Garden City but I know in all of our schools… there are those relationships they have developed."
Meanwhile, at Maples Collegiate, Grade 11 student Rebecca Cabral celebrated her 17th birthday with friends after school Monday.
The group of four donned birthday hats, and Rebecca clutched a small balloon. It was her only chance to celebrate with friends in person, she said.
"Once you go into online learning, you kind of lose connections... I’ve lost many, many friends over the past year, and now I’m down to the four that I have," she said. "It’s really hard."
Learning online has been difficult, both socially and academically, Rebecca said, and going back to it full-time is going to take a toll, adding she’s heard similar feelings from friends and even teachers.
Kalkidan Mulugeta and Parneet Buttar, both Grade 12 students, said they’d expected the shutdown, but they’d regret "not getting closure" for the four years they’d spent in school together — should remote learning continue into their last days as high school students.
"If we can’t have a graduation or any kind of day where we can celebrate with our peers, it’ll feel like, did it even happen?" Parneet said.
Not every high schooler was mourning the move.
Maples MET school Grade 11 student, and self-declared introvert, Zachary Ireland said while the news was "bittersweet," it will be a "nice break from social interaction" and a chance to work on academic projects.
"I was pretty upset, but not for the reason you would expect: I was upset that there wasn’t going to be exams," he said.
Malak Abas is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.