The Class of 2021 is facing a school year unlike any other. Just think of the stress and anxiety that a single term of disruption caused for the Class of 2020 and multiply it tenfold. A recent article in the Toronto Star (https://tinyurl.com/yyvhahcg) outlined some of the issues this year’s grads are dealing with in real-time.
This year’s cohort is dealing with a constantly changing playing field. The delivery of curriculum ranges from traditional stand and deliver in-class sessions to a range of blended alternatives. Indeed, looking around there really is no common ground between school boards and individual schools. And quite literally the format is changing every day based on COVID outbreaks.
And if the actual delivery format shifting isn’t causing enough disruption, the length and format of the terms are also different. To reduce in-class numbers, many traditional year-long schools have switched to semesters, trimesters, quadmesters, and even octomesters. This reshuffling leads to longer classes and fewer subjects at a time. As a teacher, it is hard enough to keep a class of students fully engaged for an 80 minute period, just think of the academic gymnastics required to keep these same kids on track for three or four hours at a time!
As difficult as these adjustments are for the students consider the teachers. I recall many years ago during a teaching practicum as a B. Ed student that I had a grade 10 English class of 32 students. It was a mixed class of Advanced students, General level students, ESL students, and ESD students… I didn’t even know that English as a Second Dialect existed until then… As well, there were a variety of students with learning exceptionalities. Of course, that was a unique class, but today’s teachers are dealing with all the COVID-related changes plus a class of varying levels of ability. It doesn’t matter how much time you have off in the summer, this is hard slogging.
Something else to factor into this equation is the absenteeism of teachers due to the virus. They may contract it or have a loved one who is ill and as a result, they need to stay home and either recover or isolate. What happens then to their classes? A look around at the various supply teacher boards online reveals most private schools are requiring more supply teachers by the day. The needs of public schools must be similar. The problem with the public system is that they rely so heavily on retirees that students are not necessarily getting the most up-to-date replacements to deliver the content. That’s not meant to be demeaning. I am confident that these seasoned educators can deliver lessons under normal circumstances, but these are not normal circumstances, and they more than likely lack the ability, as do many current teachers, to deliver blended learning under extreme duress.
Another ongoing issue is our reliance on technology. Of course, on the one hand, technology is a lifesaver as more material is being delivered and accepted online. But that comes with its own challenges. Bandwidth in publicly-funded schools is a literal joke. Prior to the pandemic, very few public schools had the ability to deliver curriculum online. The ongoing crisis has only amplified the woeful lack of technology infrastructure in public schools. I mean, if Skype – yes, I think it’s still a thing – has fallen by the wayside due to lack of foresight and infrastructure investment, just think of the challenges facing school boards and government education departments. Also, consider the students with varying levels of tech literacy and differing degrees of accessibility to appropriate technology.
Of course, as always, teachers, guidance counsellors, and parents are willing to help but are also overwhelmed and confused. They too are dealing with an ever-changing pedagogical paradigm. And that isn’t just in their own school. Helping graduates deal with a changing post-secondary landscape in addition to the daily adjustments in secondary schools is a challenge for even the most talented and knowledgeable.
Outside of the classroom, changes and adjustments are similarly being thrown at the Class of 2021. Students are finding it difficult if not impossible to continue co-curricular and volunteer that in a normal year would differentiate them from the pack of applicants to selective schools and programs. As well, application deadlines will be due prior to pre-requisite courses finishing or in some cases even starting. Though I certainly have faith in most post-secondary colleges and universities, not all have successfully addressed the challenges they have faced this year if input from students and colleagues is any indication.
And yet, no matter how confusing it all seems, this is the time for graduating students to concentrate on achieving the best grades possible in order to give them the greatest opportunity for multiple university offers. No matter how challenging things are, it is also time for them to shore up their co-curricular and volunteer experiences. They really need to negate as much of the confusion as possible and look at the application process as if it were another Grade 12 course. Which again, is easier said than done this year. The reality is that the really hard part should be choosing a school and a program, not the application itself.
For starters, they need to, more than any other year, really put their all into every assignment. Mathematically, it gets harder to raise and even lower a mark as the school year progresses. With this in mind, students need to focus on the pre-requisite subjects, though everything counts in Grade 12. If they haven’t already done so, grads really need to put a schedule in place and use a calendar of some sort to keep track of assignments and assessments. With longer classes and fewer meetings, the term will slip away without planning.
In terms of co-curricular and volunteer opportunities, they also need to have a plan. Though opportunities may be harder to find, I would suggest that students can find opportunities with a little hard work and creativity which are traits that will stand them in good stead in their postsecondary pursuits and life in general. In terms of volunteering, lots of agencies and support services have adjusted to offering online services so there is no doubt still a need for volunteers just a different need. Similarly, students can use their special skills and talents, athletically, academically, and artistically to both help others and adjust their co-curricular involvements. A student-athlete can work with younger students to enhance their skill set as can budding artists, musicians, and linguists. Sure it will look and feel different, but doesn’t everything these days?
In conjunction with parents, counsellors, and mentors, Auld Educational Consultants are here to help Cohort 21 every step of the way from OUAC, OSAP, and Supplemenraty Applications through to Scholarships, and final school and program selection. And as always, we can suggest GAP year options for those who for a variety of reasons are looking to start their postsecondary journey differently. Consult our website at www.auleducational consultants.ca and contact us for a free consultation.