How NHS students feel about school during a pandemic

By Anna Carsley-Jones

Quadmesters: Two courses finished in two months. It isn’t what the Nepean High School (NHS) students expected, but it’s what we got.

It isn’t news that the 2020-2021 school year is unusual. At NHS, students are working hard for quickly approaching due dates, attempting to plan their schedules accordingly, and trying to figure out a life outside of school when their free time changes constantly.

For hybrid school students, who are separated by two cohorts and attend school on alternating days, feelings vary on the new setup. One Grade 10 student, Gaby, said while she misses friends, sports and social interactions, the quadmester hybrid school system fits her learning style. Being at home half the time allows Gaby to work in a quiet environment and she can set her preferred work-life schedule. For Gale, in Grade 10, the first quadmester was challenging. Their courses were science and math — courses that can be more difficult than usual when students learn five months of material in two months. Gale was thankful for the two teachers they had, who both tried to make this situation bearable. We all understand that this time is just as challenging for school staff. They have to create virtual lessons, four-hour-long in-class lessons, virtual guidance appointments, club meetings and more, all while in short quadmesters. 

The exterior of Nepean High School in fall.
Nepean High School. Photo by Cathy MacKechnie.

The biggest challenge, voiced by hybrid students, is the speed of the new system. Kenny, in Grade 12, who had math last quadmester, said that he had a weekly test, which added a lot of stress (on top of the pandemic stress). While many students have anxiety around COVID-19, Margot, a Grade 11, said she has felt safe at school with the precautions taken. She’s happy some of the clubs and sports that she participates in are available virtually or in a physically distanced way. 

By having the course material condensed into quadmesters, students said they have little time to reflect on the material being taught. With long school days, and full days at home, students struggle to find motivation. If they fall behind, even briefly, it can be hard to catch up. Heather, in Grade 11, said it feels like she has double the homework, so making plans for extracurriculars, and with friends, is difficult. 

In virtual school, Jana, in Grade 12, said that the pros of being online are that she doesn’t have to commute, and that she has virtual classmates from all over Ottawa whom she wouldn’t have met before. The cons are that she sits in front of a screen all day (sometimes up to nine hours), and that the work can be repetitive and tiresome.  There are only so many things you can do online, Jana said. 

Overall, this school year is unexpected for all students, online and hybrid. Grade 9s are getting an odd start to high school, Grade 10s and 11s are being disrupted just after getting settled, and Grade 12s are thinking of the future when nothing is certain about the present. We are trying to figure things out, as are the staff, and it’s weird. It’s stressful, it’s confusing and it’s difficult — we cannot deny it. But we are trying to figure out what works best for each one of us, one step at a time.

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