January ‘break’ for some OCDSB students gets failing grade from parents

Parents of grade 9 and 10 students in Ottawa’s English public school board are critical of a decision that wiped not only January exams for their teens, but also in-class instruction.

The period of Jan. 24 to 30 is traditionally one for exams.

Earlier in the year, the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) elected to scrub exams for grade 9 and 10 students as a means of supporting “the health and well-being of students by removing the pressures associated with exams.”

Many parents said they only discovered this week — when their children declined to go to school —  that the individual schools hadn’t scheduled in-class instruction.

“This is crazy,” said Leanne Clare. “They should be at least doing some kind of learning.”

Her 15-year-old son Zachary Pantarotto has been home without much to do.

Wednesday he joined some friends to shoot pool.

“What exactly did they need a break from? They haven’t been back in school for a month,” she said.

To prevent him from losing the entire week to Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order on Xbox, she has insisted he shovel snow from driveways around their Ottawa neighbourhood.

Earlier this week she dragged the teen grocery shopping in an attempt to add something educational to his week.

His main learning, he said, was that “it’s not very fun grocery shopping.”

The teen was blasé about the week without classes, that a few more days without in-class learning were insignificant compared to “the amount of school we’ve already skipped,” he said.

That’s precisely what University of Ottawa education professor Michelle Schira Hagerman was worried might be the message of such an unstructured week.

“What messages are we giving kids if there isn’t a clear rationale supporting this?” she asked.

Students who need extra help could drop into school or catch up on outstanding assignments, but there is no in-class instruction.

Clare called the “lost week” a wasted opportunity to make up for time taken from in-person instruction by the pandemic.

She worries about a cohort of students moving toward college and university without adequate exam-writing experience.

“The reality is, there is some benefit in learning how to handle that stress,” she said.

In the same Nepean neighbourhood of Ottawa, 15-year-old Éloïse Olivier was practising her flute.

The practice is one of the things her mother Kirsty Olivier insisted on to prevent the week from becoming an echo of the bleary idleness that she said characterized school during the pandemic.

“Just this feeling that yet again there’s this gap where nothing is happening — nothing constructive is happening,” she said.

Both parents worry their teenagers will face the same unstructured idleness when exams return in June.

The OCDSB has set aside June 21-27 for what it calls “student success days.”

Olivier hopes more thought is put into what will occupy teens who are caught up on their school work.



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