MONTREAL — Eighteen-year-old Shanie Rochasmar was among thousands of students who walked into Montreal's English-language Dawson College on Monday for the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
She said she picked out her clothes the night before, packed her bag and got ready to attend class in person instead of through her computer screen.
"I made sure I ate a good breakfast, that I had enough money for lunch, looked for who I was going to hang out with," Rochasmar said in an interview. "I really planned everything."
Many junior colleges across Quebec reopened for full-time, in-person learning on Monday. The government had introduced a gradual, part-time reopening of junior colleges and universities last February, but the majority of post-secondary classes have been held remotely since March 2020.
Rochasmar, a second-year student studying health science, said it was energizing to finally leave the house for school.
"It was hard because school and home life were mixed together, it was hard to focus on everything," Rochasmar said. "There was noise in the background. You have to do your tests, listen to classes while my mom was at home, and my younger brothers were also doing their classes."
Many returning students at Dawson College, including student union president Alexandrah Cardona, said Monday that following strict health orders was worth it to see friends in class again.
Quebec Premier François Legault announced on Aug. 17 mask-wearing would be mandatory inside classrooms in junior colleges and universities, following a rise in COVID-19 cases.
"This was very welcomed and encouraged by the student union because, as the largest college in the province, that was a necessary measure," Cardona said in an interview about the mask mandate.
Students were not the only ones enjoying their first day. Jonathon Sumner, a faculty member of the physics department, said he "could feel the excitement in the classroom, it was really palpable."
"They were getting something they haven’t received in many months. You can make eye contact with your students. Last year, I think I knew what eight of them looked like."
Dawson College spokesperson Christina Parsons also said the energy on campus Monday was incomparable to what she referred to as last year's "ghost town."
"This place is buzzing like it hasn’t in a very long time," Parsons said in an interview. "So it’s a happy day. This is a place for learning and being together."
Parsons said she is trying to stay optimistic despite the fact the province has entered a fourth wave of the novel coronavirus. She said a student survey indicated more than 8,000 Dawson College students had been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 — which is almost the entire student body.
Vicky Carignan, 17, is among the vaccinated students. She said she prepared her lunch Sunday night with her father and had him drive her from Montreal's south shore to Dawson.
"It feels weird because I am not used to it," Carignan said in an interview about her first day back to school.
"We don’t know what’s going on, we are just trying to find our ways and it’s fun because we are all discovering the place at the same time."
Meanwhile, Health Minister Christian Dubé said on Twitter his department has noted a "certain stabilization" of new cases in the province. Health officials reported 376 new COVID-19 cases on Monday and one more death attributed to the novel coronavirus.
The Health Department, which no longer reports on weekends, said another 1,026 infections were identified on Friday and Saturday. Officials said hospitalizations rose by 12 since their last report on Friday, to 99, and 31 people were in intensive care, a rise of one.
The province said 26,630 doses of COVID-19 vaccine were administered on Sunday and 78.2 per cent of Quebecers 12 and older are considered adequately vaccinated.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 23, 2021.
Virginie Ann, The Canadian Press