School is back. It looks different in many ways, but, in many other ways it is exactly the same. There are announcements and “O Canada” and land recognition, just like there were last year.

What is not the same when I am speaking with students is that I am hearing some statements I do not usually hear. They are words that, in past years, would have been surprising, but this year, they are downright confounding. They only have one explanation: they are miracles.

Picture a girl, with an orange streak through her hair, who was totally disinterested in school last year. This year, I am looking at her via my computer screen on a Zoom call. She is holding up an essay

“Look at the A I got,” she says. “It’s my best mark in English ever.” I am staring at paper she is holding up to the screen. I am speechless.

She continues,” It is so exciting to be back in school that I decided to try and do really well. I think if I work hard and I’m respectful of the rules, I may be able to come in for extra time at some point when other people go to online learning.”

I am still staring, still speechless.

“Dr. Beck, are you having a stroke? You’re not speaking. My grandpa stopped speaking suddenly when he was having a stroke.”

“I don’t think I’m having a stroke but words are coming out of your mouth that I never thought I’d hear you speak.”

“I know, but I’m so glad to be back in school and I do not want to leave! I remember you saying that school can save people’s lives, but I didn’t believe you until I got back into this building. I was even happy to see the vice-principal and it was great because I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong. He had come to congratulate me on my great essay! Congratulate me!!! I wrote a great essay!!

Even one event like this would have made this a great September and a remarkable beginning to the school year, but many youth I know who had previously been unenthusiastic about their education are now fully engaged. It is as if being away from school has been a reminder that a classroom with people their own age and a teacher are a meaningful part of education. It is as if they have realized that they really can learn more in a classroom than they can at the desk in their bedroom. That lecture they were fed up with hearing was the truth.

It is these conversations that remind us that children and youth thrive on being in school. The need to move to online learning because of the pandemic has been hard on them at a stage of life when they need peers and caring adults. The evidence has always supported this, but perhaps we all needed to be reminded.

Every year, teachers write “Welcome back!” messages on school bulletin boards and spend hours designing interesting assignments. But in this special, difficult year, youth are finally appreciating how welcome they are.

It is a miracle!

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