THUNDER BAY – It’s been a rough couple of years in Ontario schools.
On Wednesday, representatives of the Thunder Bay Catholic District School Board thanked Dr. Janet DeMille and the Thunder Bay District Health Unit for 16 months of support and guidance, as educators weaved their way through pandemic restrictions, outbreaks and a new way of delivering classroom learning, in person and remotely.
Allison Sargent, superintendent of education at the board, said it wasn’t easy navigating COVID-19 and it wouldn’t have been possible without the help of DeMille, the medical officer of health for the district, and her staff.
“Dr. DeMille has been unbelievably amazing during the whole pandemic – through the closing of schools and opening of schools and closing of schools again and reopening schools through the vaccine roll-out,” Sargent said.
“We really acknowledged the fact that they understood that we were dealing with kids. The restrictions that they had in place in schools ensured that students were able to celebrate their milestone occasions, special occasions in the schools.”
It wasn’t easy, she added, noting students and staff alike worked hard to make it work, whether it was social distancing and wearing masks in the classroom or learning from home, after the provinces shuttered in-person learning in March 2020, then again this past February in Thunder Bay.
“The PPE in itself was a challenge to wear all day, but the creativity that (staff) had to make sure that students still had meaningful experiences, despite the physical distancing, despite all the hand washing that had to be done and all the restrictions that were in place, our entire staff really rose to the occasion,” Sargent said.
Students had to persevere too.
“They were very determined and even our students who learned at home this year, they still were able to participate in an education, a little bit different than what they were used to, but our students definitely rose to the occasion as well.”
DeMille said she had no idea just how many signatures were going to be on the banner, adding it was a touching moment when the banner was unfurled.
“I was caught off guard. I knew this was happening, but I wasn’t quite expecting huge banner and all those signatures,” DeMille said. “I’m looking forward to reading them and seeing the effort they put in.
“Honestly, this was a very difficult year and a very unusual year. We saw school boards ... really step up and take on this huge task and all the teachers and staff and even the students, implementing a lot of health measures and then of course following up.”
Both DeMille and Sargent said they are awaiting provincial guidelines surrounding a return to school in September, both saying they are confident it can happen and should happen.