Winnipeg students fear remote learning could mean another year of scaled-down grad ceremonies

For students in Winnipeg and Brandon who are in their final year of school, it’s starting to look like graduation celebrations may once again be pared down.

Starting Wednesday, all K-12 schools in those cities are moving to remote learning, in an effort to curb Manitoba’s rising third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The change is in effect until at least May 30, but with the end of the school year fast approaching, students are worried that may affect some graduation ceremonies for the second year in a row.

“Usually they do a party at the Radisson [hotel] for the grads, but they didn’t do it last year, and I guess they aren’t going to do it this year too,” said Isra Alshareh, a Grade 12 student at Gordon Bell High School in Winnipeg.

On Tuesday, Alshareh received her grad photos, which might be the only traditional memory she’ll have of her final year in high school. 

“It makes me sad it’s my last day [before moving to remote learning]. I want to have a party with my friends. I want to celebrate my graduation, since we worked really, really hard since this pandemic started,” she said.

“It feels so sad that people aren’t following the rules, and we’re the ones [it’s] affecting more.” 

Isra Alshareh showing a digital copy of her graduation photo. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

Grade 11 student Jeremy Missyabit said he’s in “disbelief” that it took so long for the province to shut schools. 

“I’m pretty shocked because I know that there’s this month and next month of the school year, and it seems pretty weird they’re shutting down now, but not before,” said Missyabit, who has personally been impacted by COVID-19.

“People are suffering around the world and dying from it.… I lost my great grandmother as well as an uncle [to COVID-19].”

Jeremy Missyabit says his great grandmother passed away from COVID-19. He’s surprised by how long it took for schools to close. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

In the two weeks leading up to May 9, there were 598 COVID-19 cases involving school-aged students and 117 involving school staff in Manitoba, according to provincial data. The province notes, however, that a case in a school does not mean that COVID-19 was acquired or transmitted at school.

Students who spoke with CBC News say they understand the need to curb the spread of the illness, but the switch to remote learning has some worried about the quality of their education.

“It’s definitely harder to do online learning than in person. You don’t learn as much and I guess you don’t really get to connect with people,” said Grade 11 student Oliver Heaman-Warne.

He might not be graduating this year, but Heaman-Warne says it’s disappointing that this year’s graduation may be similar to last year’s.

“I feel sorry for them because I know that some of the Grade 12s  from last year were very unhappy about all of their graduations being cut down, and this is cutting it down even more,” said Heaman-Warne. 

Oliver Heaman-Warne says you don’t learn as much when you do remote learning. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

Graduation is an important milestone in a teen’s life, and Alshareh says she’s hoping the school will at least organize a pared-down celebration. 

“Last year they did a graduation at the green space, and they’re planning to do the same because it’s like a big … [and] we can be six feet apart from each other,” said Alshareh. “But we’re hoping to do more than that.” 

Even if she isn’t able to mark this accomplishment, Alshareh is already looking to her future. 

“I applied for the University of Winnipeg and I got accepted at the faculty of education,” she said. “I’m trying to become a teacher.”

Starting Wednesday, all students in Winnipeg and Brandon are moving to remote learning, in an effort to curb Manitoba’s rising third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. The province says students will return to school in June, but students aren’t as optimistic. 1:54