"We have all missed the normal routines that come with going to school and while it's not quite the same as it was before, it just feels good to be back together again."
Northern Lights Public Schools spokesperson Nicole Garner says the first days back for more than 6,000 students in 26 schools across the region has seen many positive outcomes. The staggered, two-day start that had students split into two alphabetical groups was a success due to a number of factors, she said — including tremendous support from students' families.
"The first two days of staggered entry went amazingly well," said Garner on Thursday morning as school doors opened to all students. "It was obvious that parents had done a lot of work at home to prepare students for all the changes due to COVID and we really appreciate the effort that families put in to helping things go more smoothly for us."
Arriving at schools for the first days of the new semester, following almost six months away from classes due to the COVID-19 closures of classrooms three months before regular summer holidays, the students seemed eager to connect with each other.
"What we have been hearing is that everyone is just really excited to see each other again and be back together to start learning," Garner said, explaining that in-school pandemic rules like mask-wearing, hand sanitizing and social distancing were well-received by students. "Students were very patient and very co-operative in complying with all of the new requirements."
Not all students returned to classrooms last week, however, as Northern Lights Public Schools officials estimate anywhere between five and 10 per cent of the student population has opted for the virtual Learning Together Anywhere program to begin the school year. The virtual program blends teacher-driven lessons with at-home or virtual learning modules. Garner, some students who first enrolled in the virtual classroom learning offered by the division have recently decided to attend in-person. The division also offers links to full home-schooling programs.
In the last two years NLPS overall enrolments have remained level. By the end of September last year, division schools recorded 5,951 students. The year before that, the number was 5,989. Garner says it is too early to comment on the affects the COVID pandemic or the economy has had on student numbers so far this year.
"The numbers are fluctuating. We continue to have students enrol in the (virtual) program and we have had some decide to attend in-person classes instead," she said, explaining that a better look at the overall enrolment numbers will begin to materialize in the coming week. "I won't have a better number than that until probably the end of next week as we continue to confirm which options families want to pursue this year."