From no classes to ‘blended learning,’ the Class of ’22 has been through a lot

In four years of high school, the Class of 2022 has only had one year that could be called normal.

There were three lost months in 2020 at the end of Grade 10. They spent Grade 11 apart from half of their classmates while they learned from home every other day, and in Grade 12, two weeks were lost to a CUPE strike in November, and three weeks in January were spent learning at home.

There was mandatory masking, lots of COVID tests and sick days, very few extracurricular activities, and the overall uncertainty of life in a pandemic.

It’s been quite a ride, said Reese Mann, co-president of the graduating class at Bernice MacNaughton High School in Moncton, NB

That’s why the recent lifting of all mandates in schools came as such a morale booster, said Mann.

“People are a lot happier and definitely we don’t take anything for granted anymore,” she said. “Before the pandemic, we did. Now we know that anything can be gone in the blink of an eye.”

Reese Mann is co-president of the graduating class at Bernice MacNaughton High School in Moncton. (Submitted by Reese Mann)

She is particularly excited to attend the school’s first in-person assembly since before the pandemic.

“And honestly, I didn’t even know what a lot of students that are at our school looked like because we’re so used to seeing them with masks on,” said Mann.

But with all of the academic disruptions, Mann said it’s likely that some of her classmates are behind where they should be as they get set to graduate. She said at-home learning did not work for everyone.

“For many, there’s no motivation for at-home learning — many would stay in bed all day,” said Mann. “So yeah, I think all grades have just been a bit behind.”

And she worries about the cumulative effects of falling behind in subjects like math and sciences that build on previous curriculum.

The president of the Canadian School Board Association is also concerned.

“I would say I’m concerned for all students in the system from the impacts of the past two years, including our staff,” said Laurie French.

“And, you know, it’s going to have a long-lasting impact on all learners and all educators for years to come, I believe.”

Laurie French is president of the Canadian School Board Association. (Submitted by Laurie French)

Although the whole world experienced the pandemic, French said students in various parts of Canada may have experienced it differently, given that each province had unique protocols and guidelines.

“So there will be some who had very minimal interruption to their routines and attended class in person with their peers and staff, etc.

“And then there will be others who had much more extended periods of remote learning or an absence of learning, depending on their ability to connect.”

French said some remote and marginalized communities were at particularly disadvantaged because of poor internet services.

Her group called on the federal government to make more funding available to address connectivity issues, and while funding was made available, French said that’s not going to help the students who have had issues over the last two years and have fallen behind as a result.

“There’s going to be a widening gap for those children,” said French.

Educational tools in province

The New Brunswick Education Department said it has a number of tools that can “assess the academic performance of graduating students,” but the results for the Class of ’22 are not yet available, said department spokesperson Flavio Nienow.

For example, Grade 12 exit surveys are just now being circulated. The survey asks about students’ plans after graduation and how ready they think they are for the future. The results won’t be available until the summer.

Nienow said the department is also gathering feedback from teachers and other educational professionals “on possible learning gaps and how to address them in the long term.”

“To support student academics in the short term, we are looking at providing additional learning opportunities this summer,” he said.

Asked for further details on those summer “opportunities” are, Nienow said more details will be available “in the coming months.”

But Mann said the summer will be too late for the Class of ’22, since many of them will be busy working to save money for college or university in September.

Graduation rates stable

Nienow said graduation rates have been stable through the pandemic. Last year, 84 percent of Grade 12 students graduated.

“That was down slightly from 2019-20, where the rate was 86 per cent, but up from the 2018-19 rate of 83 per cent,” Nienow wrote in an email.

According to statistics provided by the department, graduation rates have fluctuated between 81 and 87 per cent over the last 20 years

Until mask mandates were lifted last month, students didn’t even know what many of their schoolmates looked like. (Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

Anglophone school districts in southern New Brunswick were asked by CBC News about how this year’s graduating class is faring.

Zoë Watson, superintendent of Anglophone South, consulted with principals and guidance staff for their observations.

“Overall, they are not seeing a change in the number of students graduating this year or an indication that they are behind, although one school noted they saw an increase in the number of Adult High School Diplomas,” wrote Watson in an emailed response.

The adult high school diploma is an alternative to a regular diploma, according to the Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labor website. It’s designed for students who are at least 19 years old “who are only a few credits short,” the website says.

Teachers “have been exceptionally accommodating and flexible to help students stay on track despite the disruptions over the past couple of years,” Watson said. “This applies to students’ academics but also supporting their mental health and engagement during this time.”

Watson said online learning was “challenging” for some, and that connectivity was an issue for others.

She said teachers are “planning on ways to address the impact of the last couple of years on younger students as they move up through high school.”

In an emailed statement from Anglophone West, the district’s communications manager, Jennifer Read, said education officials meet regularly to discuss student needs.

“We are focusing on what can be done immediately, in the months ahead, this summer, and into the next school year. To date, ASD-W has invested additional funds into student intervention, technology and learning devices and assistive technology.”

Post secondary plans

Watson said the pandemic doesn’t seem to have affected the number of students going on to post-secondary institutions in the fall, but “some may be opting for institutions closer to home due to the uncertainty of travel and COVID restrictions.”

“Last year we saw some students postpone their first year of university as they did not want it to be online,” said Watson.

Mann said the same thing. She said many of last year’s graduating students decided to take a “gap year” to ride out the uncertainty of the pandemic.

Many universities are reporting unchanged enrollment numbers.

Applications for Mount Allison University, for example, “are steady,” said Laura Dillman, who does media relations for Mount A.

A spokesperson for St. Thomas University in Fredericton said it was too early to provide enrollment numbers, and the University of New Brunswick hasn’t provided an answer in the four weeks since the request was made.

The Ontario Universities’ Application Center actually tracks the numbers for Ontario at various intervals throughout the year. There is no such tracking in the Maritimes.

According to the latest statistics available, the number of students signing up for classes in September is up significantly over the last two years. The only drop in the last decade came in 2020, but applications have since rebounded.

For those students who may experience academic difficulties of any sort — pandemic-related or otherwise — Dillman said Mount A has a number of academic resources available to all students throughout their degrees.

“The University is aware of possible challenges students may face when they start their studies, particularly over the past two years and will work with them with the programs in place to assist,” she said.

Some positives

By putting students largely in charge of at-home learning, Mann said the pandemic actually left many students with some important skills.

“I honestly think that students are more independent now just because we’ve had to take learning into our own hands at home and just be more responsible for showing up to Teams calls online and stuff like that.”

Watson agreed.

She said she was interviewed by a recent graduate for a journalism course, and she turned the questions on him to ask about the last three years.

“He said time management became important, as well as prioritization of what he needed to do — he also mentioned having to change quickly as the pandemic rules continued to impact his activities and schooling.”

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