On Monday morning, Leah Romain stomped through the dandelions in the École Robert Browning schoolyard to peek inside her empty first-floor classroom.

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On Monday morning, Leah Romain stomped through the dandelions in the École Robert Browning schoolyard to peek inside her empty first-floor classroom.

She immediately spotted her art book. As she scanned the rest of the room, her eyes came across a pack of bandages on her teacher’s desk — easily accessible for the inevitable second-grader slips, trips and falls.

Tears started to stream down the seven-year-old’s face.

Leah Romain, 7, is missing her Grade 2 classmates while she completes her school year at home. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

Leah Romain, 7, is missing her Grade 2 classmates while she completes her school year at home. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

"It just made me miss school so much," Leah said, recalling her thought-process, hours after she and her mother, Heather Romain, visited the school on a morning walk around Winnipeg’s Westwood neighbourhood.

One of upwards of 210,000 K-12 students whose classes were disrupted two months ago, owing to the novel coronavirus pandemic, Leah longs for a return to the regular school day.

Students have been trying to make sense of the pandemic, distance learning and the sudden inability to attend birthday parties. Their developing brains are processing uncertainty while the adults around them take deep breaths to maintain their own sanity and reassure them of a life beyond the lockdown.

“When it first started, I was really, really, really sad and I had one dream about time at school, and I woke up crying a little bit." – Grade 2 student Leah Romain

Leah has kept busy by bouncing on the trampoline, biking outside and playing in the "mud kitchen" with her siblings. She said, sometimes, she feels motivated to do school work; other days, she just feels sad.

"When it first started, I was really, really, really sad and I had one dream about time at school, and I woke up crying a little bit," she said, adding she misses her friends and teachers. "On the face screen, we can’t really hug and play together that much."

Romain recalls watching her oldest tear-up in March during her first weekly virtual show-and-tell; Leah has since proudly shown her class her younger siblings, the family dog, and the dance uniforms she was supposed to wear to her spring recital.

Some days, Leah is motivated to do school work while other days, sadness creeps in. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)</p>

Some days, Leah is motivated to do school work while other days, sadness creeps in. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

"It just hits you as a parent, like a ton of bricks, how important their school community is to them," said Romain, who has been operating a licensed home daycare as she takes care of her three children.

Richard Kruk, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Manitoba, said it’s important to recognize children have lost their once-reliable routines and supports at school. They may deal with this newfound stress by hiding their emotions or making outbursts, he said.

"Reassurance can go a long way," said Kruk, who trains school psychologists, "and listening to kids and giving them the space to express their feelings." Parents should stress emotional and social well-being over schoolwork during this time, he added.

Leah Romain's Grade 2 schoolwork sits on her kitchen table Monday. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)</p>

Leah Romain's Grade 2 schoolwork sits on her kitchen table Monday. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

A recent Association for Canadian Studies report on the social impacts of COVID-19 on youth found respondents were both scared of catching the virus and as a result, having a harder time sleeping and feeling anxious. The study, which was undertaken by ACS in partnership with Experiences Canada and the Vanier Institute of the Family, polled 1,191 youth between ages 12 and 17 in Canada. Its margin of error is plus or minus three points.

Upwards of 70 per cent of respondents in all age categories reported missing school "somewhat" or "a lot." Respondents also overwhelmingly expressed COVID-19 negatively impacted their school year.

A trip to École Robert Browning drove home how much Leah Romain, seen peering into her Grade 2 classroom, is missing school. (Supplied)</p>

A trip to École Robert Browning drove home how much Leah Romain, seen peering into her Grade 2 classroom, is missing school. (Supplied)

Grade 12 student Kendra Martinussen said she’s found being away from her friends and teachers the most difficult; when the Thompson teen sees a friend in town, Kendra said she feels as if she’s a dog whose owner has just come home.

"Some days, I’m pretty sad about it — just kind of upset and frustrated, grad’s gone, prom’s gone. But when I really look at it, I’m just so thankful that my family’s healthy," said the 17-year-old, who attends R.D. Parker Collegiate.

"That’s the biggest picture right now: we're all healthy, we're all safe and we're all happy."

maggie.macintosh@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @macintoshmaggie

Maggie Macintosh

Maggie Macintosh
Reporter

Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.

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