New Westminster Secondary School students still have some anxiety about the return to school in light of COVID-19 – but they’re also feeling supported by their teachers and school staff.
Those are among the findings of an NWSS student survey presented to the school board at its education committee meeting Oct. 13, held virtually via Webex. Student Voice representatives Anastasija Petrovic, Sam Killawee and Jeryca Hechanova appeared at the meeting, along with teacher Stacy Brine, to present the results.
The survey, which garnered 205 responses from students in grades 9 through 12, asked students eight multiple-choice and three open-ended questions about the return to school in the face of the pandemic.
The survey found 45% of students feeling “nervous and anxious” about the return to school, while 29% were happy to be back and the remaining quarter reported themselves as indifferent.
Asked whether the measures that have been put in place at NWSS (such as hand sanitizer, extra cleaning, cohorts and timetable adjustments) had helped them to feel safe at school, 59% of students said yes and 41% no.
Students also reported high levels of feeling supported by teachers, counsellors and school administration, with 68% of respondents agreeing that was the case.
Hechanova, a Grade 12 student, said the addition of two new counsellors at the school – bringing the number from four counsellors up to six – meant students felt those counsellors have been better able to support them.
The school’s switch from a semester system to a quarter system for grades 10 to 12 earned some mixed reaction, with 54.2% reporting that they enjoy the quarter system and 45.8% preferring the semester system.
Under the quarter system, students study only two subjects at a time, for 10-week quarters. Hechanova said the quarter system was cited frequently among responses to an open-ended question about what students are not enjoying about the return to school.
“Classes are three hours long, and the pace is very fast,” she said. “If you miss a single day, you can fall behind very easily.”
She said students’ feelings about the quarter system seemed to depend largely upon their subjects of study – for instance, a student with a physical education class and a math class might feel it more manageable than a student with two heavy academic courses.
The grade level of the students also seemed to matter, she said, with senior students reporting more workload stress.
“Grade 11 and 12 courses are very rushed, and the workload feels heavy,” she said.
Hechanova told trustees students also expressed concerns about mask use and not enough social distancing in hallways, and they worry about what will happen in bad weather when all students are forced to move inside to the gym to eat their lunch.
Students are also recommending the creation of an NWSS app or a stream of current notifications on the school website in order to ensure that all students receive all the daily announcements. Currently, Hechanova said, with students present part-time and learning remotely at other times, students find they often miss out on information.
“Communication is often missed or confusing,” she said.
Trustee Dee Beattie, who chairs the education committee, thanked Brine for working with the students and having them present at the meeting.
“This is such a valuable experience for us, as a board, to hear directly from the students,” she said.
Question: Do you wear your mask at all times in school?
Yes (where required and in the classroom): 75%
No (only where required – entering/exiting the building and in common areas, but not always in class): 25%
Has the return to school affected your mental health in a positive way?