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Why March Break - In March - Is Needed

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Why Move March Break?

Post-secondary institutions have long since had a reading week in the late winter and early spring. It was determined those many years ago that kids needed an opportunity to recharge as the rigors of post-secondary education often put a great deal of strain on students' mental well-being. It goes without saying that the staff at these institutions also needed a chance to recharge.

Ontario students left for Christmas holidays, generally speaking, on December 18, 2020 at the end of the school day. The province was told a few days later that students would be spending at least the first couple of weeks after the holiday, beginning January 4, 2021, engaged in online learning in order to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 from people who just could not resist the notion of large holiday gatherings. For many Ontario residents, students only just returned to school February 8, 2021, although students in the north of the province had returned January 11 and special needs students had been attending since then.

Educators have been working tirelessly with students and their own children to try and keep them motivated and engaged throughout this process. Yes, it's an educator's job to keep students engaged, and the students are hopefully intrinsically motivated enough that they play along, but generally speaking, this job is not done with our own children nearby and it's certainly not done while educators are trying to jockey for bandwidth alongside their own children who are trying to engage in online learning. There have been numerous emails sent from educators to their struggling students and their parents, trying to coax their students along to the finish line of the first semester, hoping that we would return to school in the near future.

From January 4 until June 30 - the typical end of the school year - there are 124 work days. This doesn't include the usual week off for March break, which would bring us to 119 days. From January 4 until March 15 - the original start date for that magical time of year known as March break - there are 67 days. 18 of these are weekend days, bringing us to 49 days. From January 4 until April 12 - the new start date for the break, as proposed by the Ontario government - There are 67 days, and that's with weekends and Family Day (February 15), Good Friday (April 2) and Easter Monday (typically a day off in most schools - April 5) taken into consideration.

When you consider that March break was originally implemented by post-secondary institutions as a method of easing the stresses students felt with their respective workloads and then that was "trickled down" to elementary and high school students - likely for much the same reasons - moving it to April only serves to put further stress on educators and their students. March break, when it hits in March, occurs at approximately the midway point of the latter half of the year. It's a very long stretch from early January to March, especially when you've just finished approximately two weeks off for the Christmas break, and there isn't any whisper of any sort of long weekend until April, where Good Friday and Easter Monday hits and we get four days in a row off.

That break in March becomes a saving grace of sorts for many students and their educators because of the time at which it falls. We may not even be planning any sort of travel, but the simple idea of just being able to sit and relax without having to get up early to go to school has its own magic, and now, that's been taken away from those of us in the scholastic realm. We now have to wait almost another three weeks, and while that may not seem significant for some, it suddenly becomes that much more critical given the way this school year and the last have rolled out.

We aren't designed to be online for six hours a day, but many of us were for roughly six weeks. If we weren't, we were dealing with special needs students who don't, for medical reasons, wear masks either properly or at all and putting ourselves at risk for them. Students were, and still are, dealing with internet lag, shoddy computer systems, and jockeying for time while also taking care of their siblings if they're online while their parents work. Educators are trying mightily to help those students who are still learning from home while also educating those in the physical classroom and trying as best they can to make things equitable - their students all have different family situations - while wondering when the next challenge will be thrown at them.

Meanwhile, our minister of education seems to think that students have somehow had a break since January 4 and time needs to be made up. Truth be told, for many students, school is actually the safest place to be in their lives, and students have had to try and balance education with increasing and varied family demands. Educators have "pivoted" so much to meet the ever-changing demands right now that it's shocking that they don't have whiplash.

All of this creates an overwhelming, exhausting sense of stress for all concerned. Students can't be the best versions of themselves if they don't have a break, and anyone thinking that kids had a break since January 4 is deluding themselves. Educators, who frequently balance their jobs with parenthood and other responsibilities, are wiped out from trying to keep their kids going online while also trying to keep their own students' efforts from waning. In addition, both students and educators have also had to learn full platforms while trying to keep their classes chugging along, resulting in communication issues, frustration and in many cases tears.

Moving the March break in Ontario to three weeks in the future is no doubt giving the government some degree of a false sense of security. I am sure that education minister Stephen Lecce believes beyond doubt that keeping kids in school is going to somehow prevent families from travelling, even though that is in contravention with his earlier belief that keeping kids home is what was saving people.

The bottom line is, educators, students, and all involved families are tired, and delaying the March break will only serve to make them more so. Any excuse that the delay is to make up for lost time or for classes somehow being on a break since Christmas is strictly that - an excuse - and there are better ways to ensure people don't travel and congregate than to delay a much-deserved break for the public the government claims they're trying to protect.

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