THE Principal of Blessed Trinity College says he is already planning for a new era of learning post-lockdown at the school.

The Antrim Road and Somerton Road sites of the school have been closed since March with little sign of re-opening any time soon due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Nevertheless, Principal Jim McKeever and his staff have been hard at work daily ever since as they plan for school life post-lockdown.

Jim McKeever, Principal of Blessed Trinity College
Jim McKeever, Principal of Blessed Trinity College

“Care and Inclusion are at the centre of the Blessed Trinity ethos, so when the world stopped for us in March 2020 and school, as we know it ceased, the response from our staff was to put first and foremost how to best continue to care for our students during these challenging times,” he told the North Belfast News.

“Using technology for learning and teaching purposes is not a new phenomenon to staff and students of Blessed Trinity as the school boasts a wide variety of ICT equipment, software packages and enjoys the privilege of quite a number of ICT suites across the school, but the challenge of being at home, ensuring remote access and sharing devices to name a few factors, can take their toll on family life and student motivation.

“We have ensured as far as possible that families who need access to a device have got it and recently have distributed over 50 laptops to students who would otherwise have been without. We empathise with our families in relation to the demands of home schooling and so have made tailored home school packs available for every child in the school. The commitment of our staff to this effort has been outstanding.

“In Blessed Trinity, we take pride in recognising our students’ individual talents and this has continued through lockdown as teachers are in daily contact with students through age and stage appropriate means such as; emails, daily and weekly telephone calls.

“Our SEN students have a weekly Zoom conference with their dedicated Learning Support Assistant. Many staff are even making socially distanced house call visits. Staff are checking in with students that they are safe and well, ensuring that students can access their work and supporting families to access the help and support they may need at this time from local organisations.

“Every day during lockdown, we have been connecting with our College and wider community, via our social media page as a virtual but very real reminder that ‘we are still here for you’. This has given us a fantastic opportunity to showcase our students’ accomplishments, whether this be a piece of artwork drawn at home, a bird house made for a Technology project or following a HE recipe to cook a family meal.

“It is so important for us to convey our ongoing presence for our students and families as we know that this situation happened without much warning and their world was instantly turned upside down. Staff have endeavoured in many ways to bring a little cheer for each student, even by delivering family wellbeing hampers and sending students an Ecard on their birthday. We are delighted to receive emails and photographs from students and families as varied as growing their own vegetable garden, running a ‘marathon’ in their neighbourhood and burying Time Capsules from 2020.”

Jim is already contemplating a return to the classroom but says the mental wellbeing of students will remain the priority.

“The reality is that we just don’t know when we can welcome kids back to the classroom,” he added.

“We are working on the idea of 2m social distancing but the World Health Organisation have said this may be reduced to 1m.

“It is all about the term of blended learning whereby students will spend part of their time in the classroom and remote learning the rest of the time.

“Undoubtedly the biggest challenge facing our young people and schools upon the return of kids to classrooms is that of the mental wellbeing of our young people.

“The language of recovery is now the norm as we plot a way forward through this trauma-type situation. The students in Blessed Trinity have access to a full-time counsellor in school as well as support from Family Works counselling.

“We have worked hard to ensure a continuity of this provision especially to our most vulnerable, during this time and have kept close contact with families and other support agencies working with our children, to ensure that they are not forgotten.

“School staff have been working with local Mental Health charities and high profile awareness raising campaigns throughout the lockdown period, echoing the term ‘It’s ok not to be ok’ to reassure our students that we know they are finding things tough but reminding them - we are here to help you.

“When students do begin to return to school for the new academic year supporting their mental health and emotional wellbeing will be a key priority.

“So whilst the heartbeat of our school is missing at present, as the majority of our children remain at home, the care and love that Blessed Trinity offers our students is most certainly in the hearts of our staff as they continue each day to support our young people and our community.”