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Back to School!

by Dr. Robert Wallis, Principal and Education and Curriculum Manager

I am a parent of 3 children in elementary school, and this last year has been challenging.  When the final announcement was made that school would not be open for the remainder of the year, it was probably the worst day of the entire pandemic for us.  The stress was boiling over for parents and children alike. The summer camp that my kids were enrolled in also could not run – it was just too late for them to put their action plans in place to have a safe summer without the risk of an outbreak cannibalizing all the hard work, time, and financial commitment they would have to put in.

I am tremendously proud that Outward Bound’s model allowed us to run programs. In most of our operating areas around the country, we were able to take youth out on overnight wilderness expeditions. I was involved in our Toronto day camps, and it was great to see young people interacting, socializing, learning from each other.  However, I could not help thinking that they were interacting with each other at a level a lot younger than their age. It struck me that they had lost a year of social skills development due to COVID. Thankfully, young people are resilient, and the Outward Bound model immerses students in quickly building these skills back up.

I am so looking forward to my children going back to school.  Seeing their friends every day, building relationships, and learning how to interact with others is the hidden school curriculum.  If there’s a silver lining to virtual learning, it’s that we as parents have come to realize how difficult and exhausting it is to be a teacher! Personally, it’s really highlighted that building relationships with students is key to their learning because when those relationships are strained, teaching becomes impossible.

But even more than that, I think it has shown us that school is much more than a place for learning facts and figures. School is about socialization. It is active. It is making friends, making mistakes, breaking with friends, and learning from them. It is giving and receiving feedback not only from teachers but from your fellow students.  It is the conversations that happen outside of the curriculum. 

When I think back to my school days, I do not remember the subject matter – I remember the people. When my kids look back on their school days, I hope they will remember the people too, which means they will probably have to think hard to remind themselves of the year they lost to COVID. It will seem like such a short blip in time in an otherwise full school life. They will think back and ask each other – did we really do that?  Yes, they will say. And we made it through OK.