Back to school season is in full swing and a far cry from the uncertainty of last September when social distancing was still a factor and no one knew when the next Covid-enforced closures might follow.
While life is now as close to “normal” as it could be, for better or for worse, the pandemic has left its mark on our school system — if not forever, then at least for now.
A note to school leaders from the Ministry of Education indicates that there are no new requirements regarding how to deal with Covid-19.
The key messages are: stay home if you are unwell – until symptoms have essentially resolved – for 48 hours; to maintain good hand hygiene; practice good breathing etiquette; Provide good ventilation and continue to maintain a good level of cleaning.
Here are six ways the classroom experience differs for kids this semester:
keep it clean
Where previous generations were well acquainted with the school door holy water fountain, the current harvest is dealing with a new replacement – the hand sanitizer pump. Together with the additional cleaning measures, these are the main Covid measures that have been maintained in the schools.
The ministry has said schools will soon be given grants for improved cleaning and PPE at the same level as last year.
“There is no obligation to wear masks, but masks should still be made available to any staff or students who wish to wear them,” it said.
Calm and relaxed
School has been a quieter, calmer place for children during Covid and we had to think about how to maintain that
Many schools have chosen to keep the staggered break times that were introduced during Covid and have had the benefits worth sticking with.
“School has been a quieter, calmer place for children during Covid and we’ve had to think about how to maintain that,” said Enda McGorman, principal of Mary Mother of Hope Senior National School in west Dublin.
The school provides staggered break times for children because they have more space in the schoolyard to play and make for a quieter experience.
“It means more supervision is required, but the children feel much more settled in the garden and have the space to socialize and get to know each other,” Mr McGorman said.
The great nature
Using nature as an extension of the classroom continues in most schools as teachers see the benefits of fresh air and extra exercise in their students’ focus and their burgeoning interest in the world around them.
“The appreciation for nature and regular exercise has always been there, but this is about making nature a part of the learning environment. It’s great for any type of quiet activity they want to do, like reading,” said Mr. McGorman, whose school has a new outdoor classroom and sensory garden where kids can relax.
“The children are very attuned to the green agenda and have a tremendous interest in honey bees – every time they see a flower they look for the bees,” he said.
put on a show
The Christmas plays and concerts are back – everything is going well. Last year, a digital link landed in parents’ inboxes, leaving a pang in the heart of many who missed the chaos and joy of reality. This year we should hopefully take our seats in the school hall again to watch the babies unbuckle Jingle Bells personally.
However, Mr McMcGorman warned that everything depends on what the winter brings in terms of Covid. “Last time we had a big concert we had 1,100 parents and 400 kids in the room – I don’t know if we could do that this year. We’d have to be very sensible about how we organize them,” he said.
Social offerings for parents, like coffee mornings, are back. Anyone who has children in the upper school and in the first grade has so far missed the opportunity to meet other parents.
When Covid struck in March 2020, it shattered prospects for normal parent-led activities like bake sales and the Christmas Aonach. Mr McGorman says his school is now running its parent and toddler groups again, as well as flower arranging classes for parents.
Face the old reality
Face-to-face parent-teacher meetings are also back, ending the prospect of last year’s Zoom calls.
Face-to-face meetings were due to resume last spring, but many schools found them too difficult to implement. This year, parents should be allowed to return for a personal visit.
On the other hand, the digital experience may have had advantages, as Mr McGorman believes relationships between teachers and parents have “flattened out” during lockdown.
“You could see me at home in my kitchen – parents could see into our lives and we could see into their lives. There was a leveling of the hierarchy,” he said.
https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/education/we-may-be-back-to-normal-but-covid-19-pandemic-has-still-left-its-mark-on-our-schools-41952273.html We may be “back to normal” – but the Covid-19 pandemic has still left its mark on our schools