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Despite end of strike, concerns linger for B.C. high school students

Students make their way to the first day of school at Sherwood Park Elementary School in North Vancouver, B.C., on Sept. 22, 2014.

Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press

Students returned to classrooms across British Columbia on Monday after the province's public-school teachers voted to end a strike that began last June, and beyond first-day jitters, many Grade 12 students worried about the lasting impact as they prepare university applications.

B.C.'s high-school seniors will be under pressure this year after missing final exams at the end of the last term. They saw opportunities to catch up at summer school cancelled due to the labour action, and then lost three weeks of school this September. The government has said there will be no changes to the academic calendar despite the lost weeks of instruction, leaving many students to fret about how to fix sagging grades and missing prerequisites.

Jing Wang, a senior sitting as the student trustee on the Vancouver School Board, says she and her classmates are "extremely worried" about the pressures they will face over the next year.

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"Student concern is still there, actually. In many ways, it is worse now that we are back," Ms. Wang said Monday. "I've heard a lot of students involved in extracurriculars worry about adding extra classes. The stress load is already too high and some might need to cut back on sports or student government."

Cole Poirier says he was "frustrated" by the strike. A senior at Sir Winston Churchill Secondary School, Mr. Poirier enrolled in two summer classes to finish physics prerequisites for engineering school – both classes were cancelled due to the strike. He now needs to fit the classes into his already-full schedule.

The province's seniors will be facing stiff competition for limited spots at top schools. Universities across North America began receiving applications at the start of September, a time when B.C.'s schools were still closed behind picket lines. Most students have until early 2015 to finish applications, and admission offers should begin arriving in mailboxes in March.

With the end of the strike, the University of British Columbia's associate registrar says it's "business as usual" at the school. While he worries that some academic content could be overlooked due to the lost weeks of instruction, Andrew Arida says UBC is prepared to look at individual situations.

"There are plenty of scenarios where students miss a week or two of classes in their senior year and are fine," Mr. Arida said. "Hopefully, the students will have covered enough of the content that they won't feel that pieces are missing once they get to university."

Of the 400 B.C. students who began studying at McGill University this year, only 30 could not prove they had completed high school. Many of those students lost the last two weeks of their final year of high school and are missing documentation. Registrar Kathleen Massey says despite the early end to classes, the number is consistent with previous years. According to Ms. Massey, McGill could extend the deadline for B.C. students affected by the strike.

In the weeks before the B.C. Teachers' Federation and Premier Christy Clark's government found a settlement to the strike, parents and students were calling Brian FitzGerald's tutoring agency for help. Despite few calls this week, he expects a busy fall.

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"Due to the condensed school year, students may feel like they are starting to slip behind at a certain point and that's when they'll look for extra help," said Mr. FitzGerald, owner of Vancouver's Tutor Doctor agency.

For many parents, the main worry on this day – limited to one hour in most Vancouver schools – was already behind them.

"I'm super-excited my kids are back in school, they're also excited," said Larissa Alexson, walking her two children to Grandview Elementary School in East Vancouver through rain on the soggy first day of school. "This is the end to a very long summer."

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