The return to school is definitely different this year.

Julia Tkachuk is a student trustee with the Kenora Catholic District School Board. During a break in school, the Grade 12 student at St. Thomas Aquinas in Kenora talked about her experience returning to class.

"It's exciting and nerve-wracking," she said. 

After months of at-home learning, Tkachuk was happy to see friends, but apprehensive about the health measures.

"It was really weird, because it was really empty. I'm used to seeing the halls full of kids, and now you just stick to your side of the hallway and go to wherever you're supposed to be to do whatever you have to do, in order to make sure everyone's safe," she said.

Tkachuk only has one class in this quadmester. Instead of two parts to the school year, there are now four, so the board is using quadmesters, instead of semesters.

Tkachuk's class is physics, and she says there are only 13 students in her class. So, she says there aren't any issues with social distancing, and they're wearing masks, just in case.

"It's not ideal, but we're making do with what we have," Tkachuk agreed.

Students left for March Break last spring, thinking they would return before the end of the school year, but that didn't happen. As the number of coronavirus cases continued to grow, health units worked to find ways to reopen public spaces safely, including schools. As a concession, though, members of the public aren't actually allowed into schools this fall. Access is only for essential staff and students.

There have also been concerns about social distancing and allowing too many students into the same area at once, just in case the virus spreads quickly through a school, the way it spread through long-term care homes in the spring.

Fortunately, there haven't been any cases in the northwest reported yet, as schools are in their second week of what they're calling a staggered start. In an effort to mitigate the spread of the virus, only certain grades in certain schools are allowed to restart on the same day.

For Tkachuk, this means she has actually been in school for three days now, while some elementary grades are already in their second week.

From his perspective, Kendaaz White -- who is also a Grade 12 student at T.A. -- is happy to be back in class.

He's excited to see friends again in-person, not just online. Still, as a senior, the focus is on the classroom.

"I think that it's going to be quite challenging, as we don't know what's in place for the upcoming months or even weeks, as the virus can still spread, but I find it easier to be in school," he said.

White hopes to continue his studies and become a nurse, after graduating from St. Thomas Aquinas. As a student-athlete, he's disappointed to see the loss of sports, but understands the reason for the decision.

For more information:

School boards working together on reopening plan

Most students going back to class, KCDSB