Siblings adjusting to a new school normal

Students have been adjusting to the 'new normal' in schools since returning last week. From left are Juliusz, Mikayla, Roszie and Trisztyn Kowalski in Tillsonburg. (Chris Abbott/Norfolk and Tillsonburg News)

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Tillsonburg’s Juliusz Kowalski did not mind going back to school on Sept. 14, but it still caught him by surprise.

“My mom had to wake me up,” he laughed.

After an extended six-month break, Juliusz is in Grade 12 at Glendale High School and will be graduating in 2021.

“It’s way different, there’s four semesters now. It’s awesome,” he said.

Hallway congestion has not been a concern, he said.

“It’s different now, there’s no change of classes. There’s one class the whole day. We get two 10-minute breaks and a 40-minute lunch for four hours of class time. When we walk outside for breaks, it’s probably 20 people walking outside, not a hundred. So you’ve got your space. There’s still a lot of people but it’s not that crowded at all.”

Wearing a mask has been challenging, he admitted.

“I don’t really like the masks. I’d say, after a half an hour it kind of gets annoying to breathe.

“In my class, everybody doesn’t really take their masks off. They have it on most of the time, except me. But there are still limits – my teacher makes us use the hand sanitizer every time we come into the room.”

Juliusz had considered remote learning, but chose to go in-person.

“I’d rather be in school. People learn differently, right?”

Juliusz has three younger siblings – Trisztyn, Mikayla and Roszie – who are also been adjusting to ‘the new normal’ at St. Joseph’s School and Monsignor J.H. O’Neil School.

“When I left (for school) I was kind of scared,” said Roszie, now in Grade 4, “but when I was at school it was a lot of fun.”

Roszie paused for a moment considering how things have changed in a first-day class of 10 children.

“You wore a mask,” said Mikayla. “You had separated desks. Oh, and you couldn’t sing O Canada!”

“How about the start of school?” asked their mother, Carrie Kowalski.

“You couldn’t go through the front doors,” Roszie nodded. “You had to go in from the back of the school. And they have our desks like six feet apart.”

“Everything’s independently done,” Carrie nodded.

Mikayla had a larger group of 15 students to start Grade 7 in a Grade 6-7 split class at Monsignor O’Neil.

The masks, not having any desks near her, and outdoor gym classes stood out as some of the major changes this year.

She’s also not a fan of the face masks.

“I’d rather not have it (masks),” Trisztyn agreed, now in Grade 8 at O’Neil.

“There’s nothing in the gym right now, that’s for when you are sick,” noted Mikayla.

“They’ll treat you like you have COVID basically (in the gym),” said Trisztyn, one of nine students on the first day.

Like his siblings, Trisztyn was looking forward to going back.

“Seeing everybody that I haven’t seen in a while,” he said. “And just school in general.”

“I liked it (having six months off), but it was also boring because sometimes there was nothing to do,” said Mikayla.

“It was hard because at the beginning they couldn’t interact with any of their friends,” Carrie said.

“A lot of the time I wished I was still at school,” said Trisztyn.

“I hated the (online) homework,” said Mikayla. “It was so hard.”

“I didn’t do any of it,” Trisztyn admitted.

“You did most of it, but you dropped out about two months into it,” said Carrie. “Roszie’s teacher gave us one week in advance, the whole list of what you do every day. It was to her level and it was perfect. His, it was too laidback, he just got bored.”

“Trisztyn slept all day,” Roszie said.

“Yeah, he used to sleep all day and …” said Mikayla.

“And stay up all night,” Trisztyn nodded.

“He’s like an owl … used to be like an owl, but now he goes to bed pretty early,” said Mikayla.

“Right now it’s pretty easy,” said Trisztyn. “We’re trying to catch up and see where we’re all at, like reading tests. And we wrote a letter to ourselves that we’ll read at the end of the year.”