In the wee hours of the night, Pei finds herself busy. Sleep has not been part of her nightly routine for months.
"I try to create a quiet and comfortable environment to ensure his study," says Pei, whose eldest son Eric (Kailin) Chen is a Grade 11 student at St. Michael's College School (SMCS). "I always prepare delicious food for him during midnight in Beijing."
It's a schedule mother and son have grown accustomed to. They've been following it for more than a year now.
"I've been learning exclusively online since April of 2020," says Eric from Beijing, where he has been since the global pandemic closed borders and grounded flights. The family was visiting their homeland during the two-week March Break when they got stuck.
"If there was no remote learning option available, I would have left Eric staying in Toronto and asked some of my friends to take care of him, while I would have brought my younger son back to China for his study," says his mom.
"Since the time difference between China and Canada is 12 hours, I have to go to school at 8:30 at night every day and go to bed at 3 a.m. I usually wake up at 12 p.m. to attend hockey practices and complete my homework," adds Eric.
During multiple lockdowns and pandemic-fuelled closures, SMCS has been able to offer its curriculum uninterrupted --- through a virtual learning option.
"I feel connected with my classmates through the Zoom meetings and the breakout rooms we have in class. However, I miss the classrooms very much," Eric continues. "My teachers understand my situation and support me all the ways they can. They give me a reasonable amount of time if I need the extra days to finish any tasks."
Eric is among more than a dozen students, who for a variety of reasons, have been forced to learn virtually during the entire pandemic to date.
Eric's life goal took shape early.
"He began to play ice hockey in Beijing at the age of six," says his mom. "He played very well and he dreamed to play on a school team at a U.S. university."
While his hockey skills continued to improve, Eric's journey took a detour. His family moved from China to Toronto in 2015.
Soon, he began playing AAA hockey in the Greater Toronto Hockey League (GTHL) as an 11-year-old. He was named captain of his team at age 13.
With high school in their sights, Eric's family began exploring options. Their search led them to St. Michael's.
"When we first visited SMCS, Eric was shocked to see so many NHLers on the SMCS alumni wall," continues Pei. "He was so eager to join the family."
Over its 169-year-history, SMCS has graduated more than 200 students who have gone on to play in the NHL.
For Eric and his parents, the choice soon became clear. "Our family is highly appreciative of the culture of SMCS --- goodness, discipline, and knowledge," says mom, Pei. "We wish Eric to be exactly the man with these characteristics."
A WORLD AWAY
Eric began Grade 9 at SMCS in 2018.
Excelling in both academics and athletics, he played on the school's junior hockey team, and in 2020, accomplished two goals during his Grade 10 year. "He won a Basilian Book Award during his OHL Draft year," says his mom.
The award is given to SMCS students achieving an overall average of 90 per cent or higher. Eric also got selected in the seventh round of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) draft, 122nd overall by the Niagara IceDogs.
"I am so proud of my son," says his mom. "He is virtuous, persevering, hard-working, and helpful. He is doing his utmost to realize his dream."
For now, that means attending Grade 11 classes at night and chasing other dreams during the day.
"He has been busy attending hockey training, doing workouts in the gym, and attending some key hockey tournaments in China, such as the Chinese National Ice Hockey Tournament," says Pei. "I always drive him to the practices by myself and accompany him during the games. I am so appreciative that SMCS is providing such an excellent remote learning system that I could stay with both my kids during this difficult time."
Eric is also preparing for his SATs, a standardized test required for admission to a college or university in the U.S.
A little sleep-deprived perhaps, but grateful to continue learning.