09/22/2014 03:13 EDT | Updated 11/22/2014 05:59 EST

B.C. Teachers, Students Back In Classrooms After Strike

VANCOUVER - While his striking kindergarten teacher was off-the-job, four-year-old Branden Reynolds was working hard — reading up to 12 books a day, watching DVDs about Van Gogh and electricity and filming a NASCAR commercial where he had to kiss a dog.

On British Columbia's long-awaited first day of school, Branden and his six-year-old brother Keenan are well ahead of the curriculum they missed for three weeks during the strike.

Even so, their mother, Dorinha Reynolds, said the return to classes on Monday was "very emotional" because having her children in school has much wider significance.

"I joked and I laugh about it. I said, 'I'm not here for you to teach him anything,'" Reynolds said, describing a conversation with her son's teacher that included a wink.

"I'm here for him to learn with his peers — social skills, development skills, solving problems skills. I want him to be where he is right now."

Public school teachers welcomed back some 558,000 students after walking off the job two weeks before the end of the last school year, cancelling summer school and postponing this term until ratifying a negotiated contract late last week.

The deal includes 7.25 per cent raise over six years, $400 million to hire new teachers and $105 million to resolve retroactive grievances.

Outside Elsie Roy Elementary school in Vancouver, posted signs calling for a "fair deal" had vanished, curtains were drawn back revealing clean white boards and the mood could have been mistaken for the regular September reunion.

Neatly-dressed children chattered with hope about getting paired in the same classes as their friends. And smiling parents snapped a memento photo of their children.

"I'm very excited for the children," said mother Erin Fowler, arm around her boys ages six and nine.

"I feel like they've been missing out on their friends and just going to school and seeing the teachers and learning. I'm definitely glad they're back."

Many schools across the province were holding a shortened day, with the first instructional day to begin on Tuesday.

After Anthony Ens walked his 10-year-old daughter into class, he said he felt no ill will inside the hallways, though there was recognition the longest provincewide dispute in B.C.'s history had only just concluded.

"Everybody was in pretty decent spirits. There was a little resignation," he said, describing the teachers.

"(The contract) wasn't exactly what they were hoping for. But what do you do? You're going to make the rest of your life miserable if you don't just put it behind you and go on."

Gillian Howden said the extended summer break didn't negatively impacted her sons, ages seven and 10. But she doesn't expect the new agreement to have accomplished much for their futures, either.

"I doubt it — I don't think the quality of education is going to improve," she said. "I don't know how they're going to make up the five weeks. That's what I'm concerned about."

Donald Kumpf, who accompanied his 11-year-old son, also doesn't believe the contract will result in direct change for most schools, but held an opposing view.

"I think that the teachers took a stand and that education in the province will improve," he said.

School support worker Corwin Ulriksen welcomed children along a pathway near the downtown school with a big smile and jokes that he's got first day jitters too.

"I think we'll pretty well get into the routine," he said. "(I'm) a little bit nervous about how we're going to get everything all crammed into the school year, being a couple weeks behind. But, eh, it'll be all good."

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