Benns’ Belief: Public school board’s delay in getting back to normal semesters hurts students

By Roderick Benns

Roderick Benns is the publisher of The Advocate. An award-winning author and journalist who grew up in Lindsay, he has written several books including Basic Income: How a Canadian Movement Could Change the World.

Benns' Belief: Public school board’s delay in getting back to normal semesters hurts students
There are students who entered high school in Grade 9 a year and a half ago, wearing masks on their face all day, sanitizing religiously, with no freedom to even walk around their school -- all curtailed because of the pandemic.

There’s not much that Education Minister Stephen Lecce says these days that is widely supported. But when he announced a return to normal semesters in time for Feb. 1 – the traditional time when a new semester would begin – students, parents, school boards, and even unions were largely happy with the idea.

Locally, the Peterborough Victoria Northumberland Clarington Catholic District School Board knew a good thing when they heard it. They jumped at the chance to make the change and get back to normal in time for the next semester in February.

Trillium Lakelands District School Board – by far the largest board in the area? Not so much.

As education reporter Kirk Winter covered in his story, the public board’s director of education, Wes Hahn, said they wanted “to be very careful and very thorough before decisions are taken.” 

Ostensibly, TLDSB has concerns about the number of changes in delivery that staff has had to deal with of late, going from semesters to octomesters to quadmesters and potentially back to regular semesters in only a year and a half.

While I sympathize with the hoops teachers have had to jump through, students learning four subjects for half a year, then another four subjects for half a year is how school learning has been built for decades – and it’s how staff have been teaching here for generations.

That’s muscle memory — it will come back to teachers in no time and they will be happy to get back to the good old days.

Quadmesters and, God help us, octomesters, have been both an aberration and an abomination. The latter – one subject all day, every day, for 22 straight days, almost certainly negatively impacted student mental health.

Feed All Four? More like Kill All Hope.

Quadmesters were a measure better. One class in the morning. One class in the afternoon.

Let’s consider that there are students who entered high school in Grade 9 a year and a half ago, wearing masks on their face all day, sanitizing religiously, with no freedom to even walk around their school — all curtailed because of the pandemic. To suggest that anything but a quick return to the structure of high school as it should be needs more reflection, more contemplation, or more feedback, is asinine.

TLDSB should be embracing this opportunity. Bring back semesters yesterday.

Let’s get our teachers and students back into the rhythm of teaching and learning the way it was meant to be. Let’s introduce what a normal school year looks like to hundreds of students for the very first time, Let’s salvage this high school experience in every way we can for our kids because they deserve no less.

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