By Rori Bennett – Junior Reporter
After the Ontario Government declared an emergency last month, due to the outbreak of the COVID 19 virus, students were given an extended March break.
The Sydenham Current caught up with area high school and university students, who shared how they spent their time during the three-week break.
They also discussed their concerns surrounding their education and how their position of employment is supported.
Dakotah Biernacki, a 15-year-old Grade 10 student at Ursuline College, said she has been passing her time by watching movies, playing on her phone and talking to her friends over FaceTime.
“We aren’t officially doing online classes yet, but most teachers are trying to keep us updated with work, which is good because we will still earn our credits,” Biernacki said.
“I think the class I’m missing most is science because it is my heaviest class and it’s really stressful. I think my biggest concern is being able to go to school in general. I’d rather go to school to learn. I’m more of a hands-on learner and it’s difficult learning at home.”
Biernacki added: “As for my job, I clean an elderly ladies house currently, though I’m afraid I won’t be able too because of this virus and because of quarantine.”
Lily O’Donohue, a 16-year-old Grade 10 student at UCC, said she is using her time to do things that she would never normally have time to do.
O’Donohue said she is also doing things she always wanted to do, but never got a chance to, such as: cleaning out old drawers, organizing her closet, trying new recipes and going for more walks around her neighborhood.
“I’m trying to stick to a daily routine, but I’m finding that it’s rather difficult to maintain,” she told the Sydenham Current.
“I’ve also been reading, watching TV, doing occasional online learning and trying to do more self-care. I’m doing some online learning but it’s limited as of now because my teachers are not allowed to assign new work to be marked. All of the learning is online through websites, video meetings or documents. Most of my teachers have posted different resources to optional online learning for now until they figure out how to proceed.”
O’Donohue said COVID-19 has had a major impact on her job.
“I’m an employee at Shoppers Drug Mart and I work mainly as a cashier, but occasionally work as a merchandiser stocking shelves and doing other tasks,” she said.
“As of right now, I’m temporarily on a non-paid break from working at Shoppers due to my family feeling it’s a safer choice for all of us that I stay home and self-isolate. There was too much of a risk of me becoming infected when in contact with so many people. I’ve been off work for about three weeks now and will stay on leave until things clear up.”
O’Donohue added she is keeping in touch with family in various ways, including a visit from her grandparents, where they sat in her driveway in the sun, apart from each other to talk.
Jennifer Gunby, a 15-year-old Grade 9 student at UCC, said for the most part, she has been keeping herself busy with television, drawing and cleaning around her home.
“I haven’t had much online learning, but I will on Monday,” Gunby said.
“I’m not missing out on any classes, because all of my teachers are actively updating us on our learning. My concerns are that some people may have difficulty learning at home without the help of a teacher. The Ministry of Education has mentioned at home learning, but not specifically how they will help students having difficulties.”
Matthew English, a 17-year-old Grade 12 student at Wallaceburg District Secondary School, said he has been keeping in touch with friends through a group chat on Snapchat and throuhg phone calls.
“I think the Ministry has done a good job of keeping us informed as best they can, given the uncertainty of the situation for everyone,” English told the Sydenham Current.
“As a Grade 12 student, my biggest concern was being able to actually graduate and the Ministry addressed that very early on, reassuring us that these school closures would not prevent us from graduating.”
English said he also works part-time at a local grocery store.
“They’ve been excellent about making sure we feel safe to work by providing gloves and/or sanitizer to keep (our) hands clean as well as encouraging us to politely ask customers to please respect the distancing recommendations,” he said.
“The disinfecting all over the store has increased as most places have I’m sure.”
Abbey Coutinho, a 17-year-old Grade 12 student from Ursuline College, said she has spent most of her time completing school work posted by teachers, organizing and cleaning around her home and spending time on social media.
“For online learning, I’ve been completing whatever my teachers have posted,” she said.
“As of right now, my teachers have posted very little so I haven’t been able to learn much. As far as the website that the school board has provided for additional learning, it has neither of my two science courses so I am unable to learn that way.”
Coutinho added, as a graduate student, she is definitely worried about the loss of the majority of the semester.
“Before March break, I was in the works of possibly signing up for a program to do in my victory lap instead of heading to college right away,” she said.
“However, with the extended closure of schools, I’m not sure if I’ll be able to get in or how I will be able to go about the next steps for that, ultimately leaving me without a plan for the 2020-21 school year. For me personally, this semester was the one that counts the most. My first semester was basically English, math and religion, which for me aren’t difficult courses. However, this semester I was doing a placement at an elementary school tutoring kids and have my two major science courses as well.”
Coutinho said she currently works as a team leader at Cineplex in Chatham.
In the beginning, Cineplex remained open, however, all employees had extensive cleaning protocols put in place. It was later announced that effective March 17, the theatre was closed indefinitely, Coutinho added.
“Being a senior student and having to save up for college, paying car insurance and anything personal wise, it adds up and without a proper income bi-weekly it will definitely affect me, especially if I cannot get EI then I’m not sure what my next steps will be if this lasts longer than the end of April,” she said.
“Mainly I have been keeping in touch with extended family through a group chat we have. It’s nice to have that as we can still all talk and stay in touch with one another. The same goes for friends, we have just been keeping contact through social media and trying to make the best of it.”
Quieanna Park-Davis, a 22-year-old recent graduate of Collège Glendon at York University with an honors bachelor of arts degree in sociology, told the Sydenham Current she has been fortunate enough to continue working, mostly from home.
She has also been taking this time to clean her home, working on her own wellness and just working in general on herself, along with looking at photo albums.
“One positive thing in all this is I’m finally having the chance to try things I’ve always wanted, but never had the chance since I was in school and working full time,” Park-Davis said.
“Painting, writing, reading, watching some amazing films. Teaching myself how to play the piano. I’ve really been immersing myself in the arts. Also, Tik Tok, which I hate to admit, because I feel like I’m too old to be on it, but it’s been great.”
Park-Davis said her graduation ceremony is in jeopardy.
“Unfortunately, the current pandemic has made the status of my graduation ceremony, not my actual degree, undetermined for the second year in a row,” she said.
“Although it is only a matter of walking across the stage, graduation has been something that my entire family has looked forward too for my entire life, as I am a first generation Canadian. I have a couple none academic, but school-related projects that I am completing, so it’s a little difficult as it’s sort of the blind leading the blind, but for the most part, it’s just a learning curve.”
Park-Davis, who is a dance educator at Pure Academy, said the company has adjusted to continue offering a service to the dance students.
“As a company we offer a service, but structure and extracurricular activities are extremely important in the success of youth,” she said.
“I work with amazing people and am under the guidance of our directors who have made some smart and safe decisions on how to proceed with the dance year, so that our dancers can continue to have some normalcy in their lives and a creative outlet.”
She added: “As individuals, we are filming ourselves teaching classes which are edited and then made available to dancers who are interested in pursuing our online programs. We’re staying safe, in shape, and most importantly in (virtual) contact with our dancers. It’s the best of a poor situation. At the end of the day, what matters is these dancers, these kids, are still getting to do what they love, be active, and have something to look forward to.”
Park-Davis said she is continuing to keep in contact with family and friends.
“I’m someone who spends a lot of time with family and friends,” she said.
“Before this, I saw my parents and grandparents about three times a week and my friends almost every day. I live alone and decided that instead of staying with my parents or grandparents, I would remain alone as they are high risk. Every afternoon we talk on the phone and my parents have to support my grandparents in a lot of ways still, so there is still some minimal contact on their end.”
Park-Davis added: “I miss them, but phone calls are the safest most efficient way for me to stay in contact with my family. Sometimes my parents will drive by and give me a wave and leave food at the front door, nice little ways to sort of have family time. My friends and I have been struggling, a lot of FaceTimes and phone calls and constant contact. Sometimes we’ll be on the phone for hours, not even talking, just doing our own things, but together. It’s really a frightening time but it’s nice when you’re surrounded by love, even from afar.”
Due to the “rapidly evolving COVID-19 outbreak”, the Ontario government announced on Tuesday, March 31, 2020 that schools and child care centres will remain closed to protect the health and safety of students and staff.
Public schools will remain closed to teachers until Friday, May 1, 2020, and to students until Monday, May 4, 2020, Provincial officials stated, adding that as these dates come closer, this decision will be re-evaluated based on public health advice.
To ensure continuity of learning, the government is launching the second phase of their Learn at Home program, Provincial officials say.
The Lambton-Kent District School Board and the St. Clair Catholic District School Board, along with the Minister of Education, have released more details about the program and how they are proceeding.
Watch for more details on this story.