Faculty, staff and students are excited to be back in person at Mennonite schools in Ontario. To allow for a safe return to campus, they are committed to following local and provincial health guidelines while they prioritize finding ways to create a sense of community and connection.
Conrad Grebel University College, Waterloo, Ont.
There was relief and excitement as students moved into the Grebel residence for the start of the fall semester and took part in orientation week events. While the college residence cannot operate at full capacity yet, there are 122 students in residence, 32 in the apartments and at least 67 off-campus associates.
Ninety-one percent of students come from Ontario. Twelve new students enrolled in the master of theological studies program, bringing the total to thirty-seven. Twenty more began the master of peace and conflict studies program, for a total of fifty.
Many classes blend remote and in-person elements, while most others are taught remotely. Music ensembles are mostly in-person, and professors are using outdoor spaces for some classes.
At the first community supper in Grebel’s newly renovated dining room, Marcus Shantz, Grebel president honoured donors who made the renovation possible by reminding current students that “These people all believe in you, and they believe that you coming here makes some kind of difference for the better.”
Rockway Mennonite Collegiate, Kitchener, Ont.
Students from grades 7-12 began the 2021-22 year with a healthy enrolment of 277, meeting in person every day. There are 36 international students this year, down somewhat from pre-pandemic years.
Rockway is introducing activities in stages, based on health and safety guidelines, according to principal Ann Schultz, who cites safety, academic integrity and community building as their priorities. She calls it a good news story that the school is alive and vibrant having, come through the pandemic really well so far.
Students will begin the year in class cohorts using a “quadmester” system. Half-way through the year they will switch to the regular semester system. Chapels will remain online at the start, and “cohort connections” will continue once a week to foster community building.
Classroom air quality has been enhanced by the purchase of hepa filters, initiated and financed by Rockway parents, another good news story, says Schultz. The music program has been re-launched as extracurricular opportunities for now, in large indoor spaces, or outdoors, but music classes will be back in the regular timetable in the second half of the year.
Inter-school athletic teams are able to start practicing. Schultz says students are eager to play and sees the return of athletics as a boost for mental wellness. Extracurricular clubs can also begin to meet again, after running virtually last year. Teachers use some outdoor spaces for teaching, even though some enhancements to the property were delayed because construction materials were hard to procure during the pandemic.
UMEI Christian High School, Leamington, Ont.
Thirty-five students from grades 9 to 12 came to campus excited to see friends and staff and to be in the classroom again. Principal Sonya Bedal says, “Virtual learning went well, but there is nothing like in-person learning to engage and excite students.”
Expanding on the success of its existing robotics course, UMEI has created a new, innovative four-year program that will appeal to students who excel in areas of math, science and technology. This enriched, hands-on program for “enthusiastic learners,” will speak to students who are “motivated beyond traditional learning styles and would like to do more adaptive, creative, critical and divergent thinking,” writes Bedal. Students can study robotics in all four years, as well as compete regionally, nationally and beyond with UMEI’s first Robotics Team.
The music program at UMEI was on hiatus for the past year, so it is exciting for the school to have a new music director, Erin Armstrong. Students from grades 9 to 12 sing in the choir and look forward to serving in local congregations and performing for an audience in the future.
Bedal says, “The pandemic has certainly changed many things that we have taken for granted over the years– music, sports, travel, clubs. The staff and faculty continue to work diligently to create an atmosphere of community where our students can come together, learn and have fun daily.”
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A grade 11 chemistry class meets in Rockway’s courtyard, as students return to in-person learning. (Photo courtesy of Rockway Mennonite Collegiate)
UMEI students take part in community-building activities at the beginning of the new school year. (Photo courtesy of UMEI Christian High School)
Rockway student council members drum up some school spirit for the start of the new school year. (Photo courtesy of Rockway Mennonite Collegiate)