See you next week!
That’s what teachers and school staff across the region said to their students as the final class bells rang on Friday, March 13. Little did anyone know then that the unlucky association of Friday the 13th would mean students wouldn’t go back to class for the rest of the school year.
On March 16, fears over the spread of the COVID-19 respiratory virus closed all Alberta schools. On June 12, almost three months to the day since students at Plamondon’s Ecole Beausejour Francophone school left their classrooms — on what would have been the official last day of classes for the year — they met again to celebrate the school’s graduating class.
The event was a community-wide celebration with outdoor speeches and presentations and a fire-truck-lead parade through the streets of Plamondon.
“Teachers at Beauséjour felt their Grade 12 students missed out on a lot of their last year events and even their graduation ceremony was unknown. So, they invited the Grade 12 students to come to the school on their last day of classes, so teachers could wish them a proper good-bye,” said Beausejour teacher Sara Doody.
School principal Nathalie Hill Ulliac told the graduating class that the COVID pandemic had taken everyone hostage, taking away a lot of their special year.
“One thing, however, is certain - Covid will never take away the memories you made while participating in school sports, cultural activities, academic challenges, artistic events and spiritual ceremonies,” she said in her presentation to the grads. “At Beauséjour, friendships, bilingualism, the sense of belonging to the Francophone culture, your school family will always be with you.”
To help students cope a little better, Beausejour staff put together "goodie bags' for the graduates. Doody said the bags were a light-hearted way to "help them on their way," and to help some who might be heading to university away from home for the first time.
What's in a Grad's Goodie Bag?
• Sewing kit & a lint brush and tide pods- to look sharp
• A roll of toilet paper - in case of pandemic buying again
• Toothpaste & floss - take care of their teeth
• Kraft dinner & popcorn - food emergency
• Band-aids - for injuries - keep safe
• Stress ball, pencils, pens, post-its - for school notes & lists
• Hand soap & wipes - wash hands, stay clean & keep safe
• Playing cards - entertainment
• Gum - fresh breath
• Candies & chocolate - energy in a pinch
End of school year for all grades
And around the region, it hasn’t only been Grade 12 classes that have been celebrated with unique events. Most schools have participated in drive-by events or small community parades.
Last Tuesday, staff at Lac La Biche’s Vera M. Welsh Elementary School were waving and cheering as a procession of parents drove by with Kindergarten to Grade 3 students waving from windows.
The next day, a similar line-up of waving and cheering staff at the neighbouring Aurora Middle School, put smiles on the faces of students passing by in vehicles.
Calling it The Big Wave, Aurora principal Rob Wicker says the event was planned to keep the connection strong between staff and students.
“This is an opportunity to reconnect in a small way in order to communicate that the students are important to us, that we care for them and that we hope they have a wonderful summer,” Wicker told the POST, adding that the event is just as important to staff as it is to students. “It has been a difficult three months for everyone, so having the opportunity to see our students in person (is) good for all of us."
Those sentiments are shared by Vera M. Welsh principal Samear Abougouche.
It has been such a challenging year with both Covid and the economy having such a huge impact on our lives. Getting a chance to see our students and them see us is incredibly important for our mental health and theirs,” said Abougouche. “They are more than just our students and this is more than a job. We are family and seeing their smiling faces — even for just a moment — is priceless.”
Across the Lakeland students and school staff have been finding unique ways to finish up the COVID-interrupted school year.
New school year decision August 1
School staff won’t know until an expected announcement on August about how the next school year will be addressed. Division officials from all school boards and provincial education officials are currently deciding if virtual teaching will continue, if classes will re-open with reduced capacity, or if doors will open for all classes with additional health practices in place.
A full explanation for each scenario can be found here
Survey deadline June 26
Northern Lights Public Schools officials have sent out a division-wide survey to parents, looking for their comments on which scenario is more favourable. The survey has a deadline of June 26 and can be found by clicking here.
Article photographs: Rob McKinley, Samear Abougouche, Rachelle Best, Sara Doody.