How high-schoolers are spending their pandemic summer

Bella Arsenault, 15, lies in her hammock and relaxes, dreaming of her overnight summer camp that was cancelled.   Photo: Alexa Mackie

By Alexa MacKie 
and Elizabeth Van Oorschot

Any other year, the summer offers a welcome respite for high school students. But amid a global pandemic, plans are being disrupted. With many camps, concerts and travel postponed or cancelled, students are faced with the challenge of finding something to do during their time off.

Despite the disruption of summer opportunities, there are still jobs available for students seeking to use the summer to gain work experience or earn some pocket money. There’s been a severe reduction or complete elimination of job opportunities in many sectors. However, there is an increased demand in others. For example, there’s an urgent need for fruit pickers in the agriculture sector because not as many foreign workers as usual have been allowed into the country.

Jobs are also available in essential services. Many teens have begun handing out their resumés to grocery and drug stores, where more work may be available because of the pandemic. Many stores are looking for employees to help with sanitation, such as wiping down shopping carts to minimize the spread of the virus.

For those unable to find work, there are other options, with the federal government promising nine billion dollars of aid to eligible students through the Canada Emergency Student Benefit, or CESB. Though this is aimed primarily post-secondary students whose education and employment options have been hindered by COVID-19, it also includes students planning to start university or college in September. That means this year’s high-school graduates can apply. To do so, students must be actively searching for work or be currently working but earning less than $1,000 a month. Though the CESB will not help younger students, it is a good option for those worried about the expenses of post-secondary education.

For some students, their time off is the perfect opportunity to further their education by enrolling in summer school. This year, the reach-ahead summer school courses are being offered exclusively online. Many students are taking them to gain another credit or to do a course that may not fit into their 2020-2021 timetable. Courses range from optional electives like business and fashion to compulsory credits such as English and mathematics. “I couldn’t fit any business courses into my schedule for next year,” said a Grade 10 student from Glebe Collegiate Institute. “But since they’re offering a Grade 11 financial course, I figured it would be a good chance to take something I thought I would be missing out on.”

High schools aren’t the only ones considering the value of online education. With uncertainty surrounding what COVID-19 will look like in coming months, universities are also being forced to consider their options. With McGill University stating their fall class will be online, it seems likely many other Canadian universities will do the same. “Physical classes come fall seem highly unlikely” said a Carleton University professor. “If the campus were to be opened for anything, it would be for students who need to carry out research, not big classes.”

For students trying to decide which university or college to go to, this complicates what is already often a challenging dilemma. Virtual learning may be necessary for safety, but it could come at the cost of the quality of education and a loss of what many look forward to as the “university experience.”

Students are starting to get creative with their summer activities. Some are compensating for cancelled camps by sleeping in hammocks in their backyards, while others are learning new musical instruments and even writing songs. Many plan to get more exercise by going on daily runs or bike rides as a way to compensate for the cancellation of organized sports. Cooking and baking are also on the agenda, and some students are dropping off cooked and baked goods to friends and family in hopes of spreading love and positivity during these uncertain times.

Despite the various cancellations and postponements, students are still finding ways to take advantage of their well-deserved time off from school. Whether it be taking advantage of new educational opportunities or devoting time to personal hobbies, students are trying to make the best of difficult circumstances.

Alexa MacKie and Elizabeth Van Oorschot are Glebe Collegiate Institute students going into Grade 12 next year. They are co-editors of the Glebe Gazette, successor to the GCI’s Novae Res.

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