Some Hamilton students are ‘thriving’ with remote learning

·3 min read

Inaya Mirza’s bully, another student in her Grade 4 classroom, is a lot quieter online.

“When she was at school every day, she would be talking about this girl,” said her older sister, Maryam Mirza. “She was doing poor academically because she was so stressed.”

The bullying — name-calling, rumour-spreading and gossiping — stopped when classrooms were shuttered.

“Now, she’s happy,” said Maryam, 23, an early-childhood educator. “She kind of misses her friends, but, at the same time, she’s relieved that she doesn’t have to deal with the bully.”

Nearly 60 per cent of public school students surveyed reported being bullied pre-COVID, according to a new report on bullying released Friday by the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board. Amid the pandemic, that number dropped to about 40 per cent.

The report was initiated by the board after the death of 14-year-old Devan Selvey, who was stabbed outside Sir Winston Churchill Secondary School in October 2019.

Kristine Bolton, a parent to two students in the public board, said her eldest daughter, a Grade 10 student at Sir Winston Churchill, suffers from anxiety.

“She didn’t feel safe all the time there with what happened with Devan,” she said. “She’s been scared.”

Bolton said the 15-year-old puts a lot of pressure on herself to perform academically.

“She blacks out during tests,” her mother said. “So being in the comfort of home, she’s not going through that and her marks have been really good so far.”

Bolton said her kids have excelled with remote learning — each for a different reason.

“Our youngest one, she’s always had a lot of struggles, unfortunately, in school,” Bolton said.

Her daughter, a 12-year-old student in Grade 7, had been at a Grade 3 or 4 level for a couple of years, her mother said. Now, she is doing math between a Grade 6 and 7 level.

“When the remote started last year after March break, I was able to give her that one-on-one support,” she said. “Her grades have improved.”

Jennifer McTaggart, a clinical psychologist with the child and youth mental health program at McMaster Children’s Hospital, said success with remote learning “is going to vary based on the kid.”

“I think there are some children who are thriving in remote learning,” she said.

Self-directed learners and students who are easily distracted by may prefer to learn in a more independent environment. Remote learning might be a welcome break for students who are shy, have an anxiety disorder or suffer from bullying.

But, she said, it’s “a double-edged sword.”

“Getting out of the situation really does reinforce the anxiety, so our kids aren’t learning how to deal in these social situations,” she said. “There’s a temporary relief, but I also worry our children aren’t getting the benefit of learning how to work through those situations, which is important to our social development.”

Sixteen-year-old Elena Kowalchuk, a Grade 11 student at Sir Allan MacNab Secondary School, is “kind of made for online learning,” her mother says.

“She’s highly motivated, she’s got an excellent work ethic, she’s got really good work habits,” said Michelle Castellani, who is a high school teacher.

But, despite her daughter’s success with remote learning, Castellani said she will “100 per cent” be going back to the classroom once schools reopen for in-person learning.

“It’s not so much for the academics that I would send her back, it is for that little bit of a social piece,” she said. “It’s important for kids to get out of the house.”

Kate McCullough, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator