From the Mayor's Desk:
Return to School Anxieties and Anticipation
Doug Lawrance - Mayor, Sioux Lookout
The last school year end and graduation were like no other. And the start of this school year will also be unusual. Return to school in normal times brings a mixture of anxiety and anticipation. For some, parents as well as students, it is the anxiety that is the dominant feeling. For others it is a sense of positive anticipation and excitement. For all of us return to school seems to be built into our DNA as one of our significant annual milestones, like birthdays, anniversaries, and statutory holidays.
The coronavirus pandemic introduces new anxieties around return to school for parents, students, and teachers. To prepare for school start-up appropriate guidelines, plans, and other measures are being put in place by School Boards and Public Health Units. At a teacher level the preparation for this year must be unlike any before. And for parents there is the usual measure of worry for their children, plus the uncertainty of the pandemic in terms of exposure, mental health concerns, academics, and social development. On a news interview this week a psychologist said that perhaps this year the focus should be on the mental health and wellbeing of students as much as academics. Not bad advice.
In our region we are very fortunate that COVID-19 case numbers have stayed very low. The Northwestern Health Unit is working with schools to put in place resources and guidelines related to screening, screening tools, physical set-up of classrooms and other spaces both inside and outside, masking, storing of masks, testing, and more. The Province has funded additional Public Health Nurses for schools this year. The return to school anxieties should be positively tempered with both the preparations that are being undertaken and the extremely low risk level in our region.
It is really important that we recognize the negative impacts school closures can have on our young people. Although these impacts are by no means universal, reports are indicating that for some young people school closures have meant: less physical activity, loss of nutrition, mental health issues, and exposure to abuse. For the majority, school closures have meant a slow down in academic progress. So we must support all who are working to open our schools and keep them open as long as possible.
Humans crave certainty. We like to hear yes or no as responses to our questions. We generally don’t want answers that leave uncertainty. But these are uncertain and uncharted times. When we are asked to wear masks, we wear our mask and like to see others wearing masks. As school starts there will be some who can’t wear masks for various reasons. There will be some who choose not to return to school. There will be some who react to all the changes positively, some who will react negatively. It is up to each and every one of us to do our personal best to help our young people succeed as they return or don’t return to school, to support teachers and parents, to understand that agencies are doing the best they can, and to carry on trusting the advice of experts working on our behalf. Qualities that will help include patience, compassion, empathy, and generosity. Anxiety must not give way to fear. Let’s all do our best to keep our schools open and our young people succeeding.