Students in Saskatchewan will begin heading back to the classroom in the next couple of weeks.
With active COVID-19 cases in the province at more than 1,000 and experts warning about spread in schools without restrictions, anxiety is high for some returning high schoolers.
"I'm also a little overwhelmed. I'm not really sure what to expect this year, just because last year was super unpredictable and things are changing all the time," said Morgan Novik, a Grade 12 student at Sheldon Williams Collegiate.
This week the Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation called for mandatory vaccines for teachers and eligible students, while the SHA and Sask. Medical Association called for masking and distancing.
Novik said she doesn't feel prepared and would like to know more about class times, classroom sizes, masking rules and more.
"I'm honestly not completely sure about anything," Novik told The Morning Edition.
The Regina Public School Division said it did not have a comment at this time and that information will be released on Monday, Aug. 23. The division said in a statement on Aug. 3 that the plan will rely on the expertise of public health experts and build on enhanced cleaning protocols, better ventilation and other measures used last year.
"I'm feeling a little cautious. I'm very excited to get back to school and see my friends again and my peers and get back to learning, but with the current sort of the climate in the city, I am very cautious, especially since nothing has been said about COVID protocols," said Mercedes Phillips, a Grade 11 student at Campbell Collegiate in Regina.
Phillips would like to know what's happening to keep students in school after last year, when they were consistently moved from in-person, to online, to hybrid cohorts.
"I just would like to know if it's really going to be a full year, just like normal like they were saying, because I don't think that we could achieve that where we are today," Phillips said.
Phillips said she would like to see a mask mandate in place, especially in places where there is no physical distancing and schools with a lot of students, such as Campbell and Sheldon. She would also like to know if vaccines are going to be mandatory for staff and students.
"The high schools and elementary schools are sort of left to fend for themselves," Phillips said. "As we're creeping up closer to Sept. 1, I think we're all sort of just sitting ducks here waiting."
Phillips said a vaccine mandate would be a good idea because there's little to no reasons that teenagers couldn't be vaccinated.
'It's the best thing that you could do to help others around you and your family and yourself," Phillips said.
LISTEN | Morgan Novik and Mercedes Phillips spoke with Stefani Langenegger on The Morning Edition
Novik said she would also like a vaccine mandate because it would help everybody stay safe and allow students to stay in-person longer. She said if there wasn't a vaccine mandate, she would support a mask mandate, as very few of her peers would wear masks without it.
"Everybody's over COVID. But I think just with last year, most students want things to go back to normal. So I personally don't think many people would be wearing masks," Novik said.
Saskatoon Public Schools working to re-engage disconnected students
A superintendent of education with Saskatoon Public Schools is working with a team to help re-engage students who have disconnected from school due to the past year.
Coleen Norris said there's a variety of reasons students and their families may have disconnected from school or other things in their lives.
"Some of the stories that we were hearing were just that students were worried about attending school for health reasons. Students were unable to attend school for economic reasons. In some cases, housing had changed," Norris told Saskatoon Morning.
LISTEN | Coleen Norris spoke with Leisha Grebinski on Saskatoon Morning
The Ministry of Education has provided some additional funding to support efforts to re-engage students that have had inconsistent attendance, Norris said.
"We know that attendance is critical to learning," Norris said.
There's support for targeted literacy and student mental health. Norris said the division is focusing on families who have disconnected to help them register.
This year the school division also has outreach workers working to connect with families to help work through barriers.
"Then [the outreach workers] advocate for them with the administration and with the counselling team to make sure that they are in a good place and have the support that they need for learning."