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Coquitlam students yearn for ‘normal’ as 2021 begins under COVID-19 shadow

The year 2020 was a year of challenge and change for School District 43 as schools pivoted from a closure, to partial and full opening; now many are hoping a vaccine will restore some normalcy and allow mask-free gatherings
2020 School year Students
The year 2020 was a year of challenge and adjustment for Coquitlam area students including Mackenzie Manning and Hussam Hamed, as well as Dr. Charles Best students, shown here on the first day of school in September, and Terry Fox secondary students who experienced a drive-thru grad in June.

Images of the first vaccinated Canadians flashed around B.C. in recent weeks has given hope to thousands of Coquitlam area students chafing under COVID-19 restrictions.

Tired of endless reminders to keep six feet apart and buoyed by the prospect of one day being able to get together with friends, students that the Tri-City News spoke to welcome the new year with a mixture of apprehension and hope.

“I’m hoping for this whole pandemic thing to have died down a little bit. I hope we’ll be able to get a vaccine by spring and by fall everybody will have it,” said Mackenzie Manning.

The Grade 12 Gleneagle student is one of hundreds of graduating students in Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam and Port Moody who would like a special celebration to mark the end of their public schooling but are not sure what that will look like.

Proms in 2020 were cancelled but students still crossed a stage at small events with just parents present, virtually or via a staged drive-thru event.


The class of 2021 will have some celebration, but planning is still underway and while many hope gatherings will be allowed, that’s far from certain.

“I would like to have a somewhat ‘normal’ graduation, a dinner dance, and a chance to hang out with my friends,” said Manning, who has already purchased her grad dress.

The Coquitlam student who is spending a lot of time baking over the holidays told the Tri-City News she's staying positive and hopes the new year will bring more opportunities to spend time with friends. Now she connects with them via Instagram video chats, and while it's fun, in person visits will be better, she said.

Yet with the vaccine roll out still in its earliest days, when B.C. can roll back some of the restrictions in place in schools is still an open question.

“That is a ‘crystal ball question,’” School District 43 board chair Kerri Palmer Isaak acknowledged in an interview with the Tri-City News. “We take our direction of course form public health and we don’t have any way of changing that. We will follow their direction.”

When students return to school as expected on Jan. 4, however, they can expect the same rigorous protocols in place as in December, and while so far coronavirus hasn’t spread in SD43 schools, few schools have managed to escape COVID-19 entirely.

As of Dec. 23, for example, 46 of 70 SD43 public schools had been flagged for COVID-19 exposure, including in the last two weeks before school closed for winter break when exposure dates were added to about a dozen schools.


The risk of catching COVID-19 and the fear of possibly spreading it to someone vulnerable caused much anxiety and stress, said Hussam Hamed, a Grade 10 student at Gleneagle.

He felt pressure not only to stay on top of school work, which was challenging because two entire courses had to be crammed into 10 weeks, but to also obey all the restrictions while still maintaining contact with friends.

While acknowledging that the school did a good job trying to protect students, he said the restrictions became tiresome after awhile, and the thought of more to come in 2021 is a bit dispiriting. “Right now, this is our new normal. The thought of everything returning the way it used to be is a distant memory,” Hamed said. 

He misses being part of clubs and joining the rugby and wrestling teams as he had planned and while students have “thousands of questions” about what will happen in 2021. “Not even the teachers can give them answers to questions right now.” 


The president of the teachers’ association expressed similar uncertainty as he looks forward to yet another year of challenges while B.C. tries to ramp down the coronavirus contagion with a battery of restrictions and at least two promising vaccines.

“It’s been a year of very trying transitions to a new mode of learning and teaching. The volume and difficulty of change teachers have absorbed this year makes any other year pale in comparison,” Ken Christensen said in an email. 

Like the students, Christensen hopes that there will come a time when “we will be able to resume resume some of the things we’ve lost connection with, due to the pandemic,” noting that teachers are also missing social interaction, group activities, school sports, clubs and “the other common causes we’ve been a part of traditionally, forever.”

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