FITZROY HARBOUR – It was the end of a very confusing start to the school year, but Fitzroy Harbour students, parents and educators had smiles on their faces kicking-off the first day of school. Although you couldn’t see them.

For several West Carleton students, today (Sept. 8) was the first day of schools. For others, it will be tomorrow. Or Friday. Or sometime next week. As schools started preparing to re-open for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic shut them down last March, mass chaos ensued.

For the first time in generations, school-aged students got a six-month break from education. The risk of a global pandemic was too great for the school year to resume after last semester’s March Break. Six months later, the pandemic is still in progress, but the provincial government, several health agencies and Ottawa school board trustees themselves, felt it was time for schools to re-open. Extra preparations for holding West Carleton classes for the first time this pandemic have created daily-changing plans, bus issues and now, a staggered start to school itself.

The public school boards will be accepting students between Sept. 8 and 18. Secondary students in Grade 9 started school today and again tomorrow. On Sept. 10 and 11 students in Grade 9 to 12 separated in to two different cohorts, will start classes. Elementary students in public schools will start classes between Sept. 14 and 16. On Sept. 18 remote learning classes will begin for students who will not be attending school.

At St. Michael’s Fitzroy Harbour, classes for Kindergarten, Grade 1 to Grade 3 and Grade 7 started today. The rest will come in tomorrow.

St. Michael’s is a relatively small school of 154 students – 30 of those students chose online education. It is also the only Kindergarten to Grade 8 school on the Ottawa Catholic School Board. Students families and even school staff know each other from the neighbourhood.

Jackson Daze, 5, is going in to senior Kindergarten. He was excited to finally get back to school, although it’s a new school for him.

The Daze family poses for a photo in front of St. Michael's Catholic School.
Jackson, 5, with mom Kristen Campbell, dad Nick Daze and sister Charley, 3, is attending St. Michael’s for the first time. Photo by Jake Davies

Mom Kristen Campbell says Jackson went to a school in south Kanata for his first year, but mom and dad (Nick Daze) decided to move him to St. Michael’s this year. Campbell said the smaller size of St. Michael’s did play a role in the decision.

Campbell is a life-long Harbour resident though, so Jackson already knows many of his classmates at his new school.

“Yep,” was Jackson’s told West Carleton Online when asked if he was looking forward to school.

Jackson was looking forward to playing with friends but knowledgeable about keeping his distance. Campbell attended the previous week’s open house the school hosted which showed parents the COVID-19 precautions and routines now in place.

“It was really good,” Campbell said. “The classrooms are set up really well. They’re doing the best they can.”

Parents to two young children, daughter Charley is three, neither Campbell or Daze were in a position to keep Jackson at home and commit to online education.

“We’re both essential workers,” Campbell said. “It was not really an option.”

Fitzroy Harbour’s Haley Lapine will be starting Grade 6 tomorrow at St. Michael’s. She was dropping off her brother going in to Grade 3. She was ready and excited to get back to school

“Yeah,” Haley said. “Absolutely.”

“She’s quite upset she’s not going today,” mom Deborah Lapine said. “She was helping make her brother’s lunch. She’s quite excited.”

Deborah has no concerns about sending her kids back to school.

“I think it’ll be a great year,” she told West Carleton Online. “Everyone will be nervous, but I think the students need to go back.”

Deborah says Haley “gets along with her brother, but…” before trailing off.

“We’re going to have a lot to get used to, but I think it will work,” Deborah said.