Elementary and high school students across British Columbia are attending COVID-19 orientation sessions this week before classes start on Monday.
Some say they're excited to return to in-class instruction and spend time with friends after a long summer of limited social contact, but they're still uncertain about how new safety measures will protect them and affect their lives at school.
Peyton Stewart, 16, is starting Grade 11 in Chilliwack and attended her school's orientation Thursday.
Her portable classroom has room for about 28 students, with just a few empty desks and little space in between, she said.
It's nerve-wracking, said Peyton, since she and many of her peers work part time in the customer service sector and they're already exposed to a lot of different people on a regular basis.
"In classrooms, we don't have to wear masks. But so many of us kept them on just in case."
Peyton said she was left wondering how daily health check-ins will work. Students are required to indicate whether they're experiencing any symptoms on a pre-determined list and, if they are, they're to be assessed by a school administrator.
"Some of the symptoms — they could be other issues, like having a rash on your skin that could be because you had, say, new laundry detergent. Does that count? Are they going to send you home?" Peyton asked, noting she has a skin disorder that can cause irritation on her hands.
She said it will be up to teachers to send worksheets if a student is sent home to self-isolate until symptoms go away.
In Victoria, Steve Lyne's 11-year-old son, Tristan, also attended a two-hour orientation before he starts Grade 6 on Monday.
He and his fellow classmates lined up at the school's sports field and were sorted into learning groups that the B.C. government has capped at 60 students for middle and elementary schools.
Tristan said most people were wearing masks when he visited his classroom, which is set up for about 18 students with two at each desk. He's still waiting to find out how lunch and recess will work.
Most of his friends are in the same learning group, and Tristan said he's excited to spend time with them after keeping his so-called bubble small. He's also looking forward to music class, where he plays the violin, and keeping up with French immersion.
But the orientation didn't alleviate all of Tristan's concerns about heading back to class as the pandemic wears on.
"I'm just worried that some people are asymptomatic and might spread (the illness) to me, so I would spread it to my family or other people."
His father said he would have preferred if Tristan had the option to pursue a mix of at-home and in-class learning like his older son, Gareth, who is starting Grade 11 at a different school.
But Tristan's French and music classes aren't available remotely. Steve Lyne said it feels like they're being forced to take the least-safe path.
The Chilliwack and Greater Victoria school districts did not immediately reply to requests for responses to the two families' concerns.
In Trail, B.C., Savannah Morgan also gathered on her school's sports field with her Grade 8 classmates for a COVID-19 orientation.
The 13-year-old said there were about 25 other students in her classroom, where the desks were spaced out and tape on the floor marked safe distances. Students are to arrive at the school and wait outside with their learning groups until they can enter at different intervals in order to reduce crowding.
Savannah is not particularly worried about contracting or spreading COVID-19, she said, since few cases have been reported in Trail so far. She's more concerned that some of her friends from elementary school have been placed in different learning groups now that they're starting at a new school.
"It's mostly the social part with having to get to know new people and not being able to just hang out with the people that I did from summer."
In an email, representatives for the Ministry of Education said all communities have unique circumstances and orientations will look different from school to school, though the province gave districts a checklist to help staff explain the new safety measures.
The checklist includes walking students through a typical school day and outlining personal responsibilities, such as self-monitoring for symptoms of COVID-19 every day.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 10, 2020.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Brenna Owen, The Canadian Press