LONDON, ONT. -- On each student’s desk inside a classroom at St. Francis Catholic Elementary School, sits the first assignment of the new school year.

It asks each child, "How Do I Feel," while acknowledging the new school year looks much different than before the pandemic.

The assignment then asks the child to draw how they feel inside a circle, and then colour a bar graph about their emotions. The graph ranks how sad, nervous or stressed they are as the London District Catholic School Board (LDCSB) resumes in-person classes next week.

It will be the first time students are back in school there since the outbreak of COVID-19.

In a tour of St. Francis, the board wanted to share the preparations inside not only this school, but other elementary and high schools through the LDCSB area.

St. Francis has signs up advising children to wear masks, to sanitize and to respect social distancing.

Markers on the hallway floors point them in the right direction and remind them to distance.

For the students, those changes are all things many have become accustomed to in the 'new normal.'

But what’s new for them, will be how their classroom works and the limited interaction they’ll have with friends who are not in their direct cohort, or group. 

At St. Francis, students will be put into four colour-coded areas, comprised of several classrooms and a washroom.

They’ll largely be limited to their designated area throughout the school day.

It will be a similar scenario for LDCSB high schools, who, unlike elementary students will only attend in-person classes on alternate days. 

While the French first language pubic school board is already fully operating in London, The LDCSB is starting the school year a full week behind the traditional schedule. 

LDCSB Director of education Linda Staudt, says the delay is necessary to ensure staffing and technology are in place to accommodate the board’s large student population, both in person and online.

Linda Staudt

Linda Staudt, the director of education for the London District Catholic School Board is seen outside St. Francis Elementary School on Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020. (Sean Irvine  /CTV News)

Staudt says just over 10 per cent of students will learn from home, forcing the creation of a virtual school. 

"We have really scheduled and restaffed a whole other virtual high school. So, we have students, about 800, in the secondary, and were now trying to reschedule the school to give them the courses they want in person."

The manager of custodial services for the board, Curtis McGee, says there has been plenty of anxiety amongst his staff as schools set to open.

New protocols are in place to ensure high-touch surfaces are disinfected - everywhere. McGee says it’s a similar approach to what was done, prior to the pandemic, in an isolated area if a number of staff and students became ill with a cold or flu.

"The process we used when had cases of increased illness, we would do a lot more disinfecting in schools. So typically, when you don’t see the illness you’re looking at one to two times a day. Now, we’re looking at three to four times a day."

As the board prepares for the challenges ahead, Staudt remains hopeful the pandemic will not shut down in-person classes again, and is optimistic high school students may be able to return to daily in-person classes early next year.