One year of pandemic. Often reduced to a virtual social and family life. Far too long lacking freedom, outings and, for many, hugs and kisses. Yet we manage to smile and find hope again, experiencing the vibrancy in our primary schools, true bubbles of life at the core of our slower paced towns. Here’s how daily life goes on at one school during the pandemic.

“Many rules!”

École St-Édouard has 160 students. “We have lots of rules”, says Laurence, a young girl in fifth grade. She’s right! Students must wear face masks when moving around; those in fifth or sixth grade must wear them all day long; wash their hands several times a day; respect zones in the schoolyard; eat in their “class group”; stay away from friends in other classes; follow the new rules on the school bus. Just like the adults, youngsters in our school system must adapt to the new normal. But they’ll tell you they’re happy to be at school, rather than at home, where meeting friends is forbidden for the most part.

The Principal: “We’re doing better than I thought we would.”

“No we don’t have more students with learning difficulties than before. I am surprised all the hullabaloo did not severely impact our students’ results”, confided a relieved principal Nancy Duranleau. Except during a short photo shoot, a face mask must be worn by all visitors, young or old who go to her office. A young girl comes to ask for string to wear masks around the neck during class. “I thought that would help them from constantly having to store their masks”, said Duranleau. Solution oriented, imaginative, organized and rigorous: “We had to adapt to and decode the constantly changing rules. It was frustrating that the education ministry did not consult us and we had to wait for support.” Despite this, various projects went ahead: overhauling the library, snowshoe outings, new paint on the walls, mobile computer services, and more. “There are advantages to being a small school in a small village community, you know. But above all my most important asset is my team. A truly extraordinary team!” says the principal.

Teachers: “Our teaching time has been cut.”

Meetings added on, hand washing sessions, timing internal movements, follow-ups at home sometimes. The tasks accumulate, but “our teaching time is cut. We had a lot of catching up to do in the fall. We need to prioritize things”, explains France Diotte, a sixth grade teacher. “Spring of 2020 was the most difficult time. We had to turn on a dime. Without a class bubble, the children had to respect the two metres rule everywhere.” Catherine Olivier, a fifth grade teacher, added: “We are missing many professionals, orthopedagogues and psychologists, among others. We need more support delivered more rapidly.” Some weariness, but lots of pride as well. Most of the students fared well. Mission accomplished.

And the students…

Storey Williams, sixth grade: “I didn’t like the virtual school or when we had to keep our distances. In class, with my mask, I can approach my friends.”

Laurence Fontaine, fifth grade: “You get hot with a mask. But it becomes a reflex. Sometimes I forget to take it off.”

Tristan De Gouvello, fourth grade: We don’t have social games in the cafeteria… There are many activities we don’t do anymore. I don’t see my grandparents… and one grandfather died this year.”

Audélianne Harrer, second grade: “The school at a distance was not much fun…The vaccine is coming. I can’t wait to see my cousins…”

Zoé Poirier, second grade: “It’s not so bad to be always in the same class. We have activities… I like attending school.”

Translation: Tam Davis