WITH the announcement that some pupils will return to school in late August, work has already begun to implement the “new normal” when children enter the classroom. Many schools  have been closed since March 13 ahead of St Patrick’s celebrations and before the Coronavirus lockdown. 

As preparations get underway in primary and post-primary school settings to allow for the safe return of pupils and teaching staff here, across the water it was announced on Tuesday that the plan for all primary school years to go back to school before end of term has been scrapped by the government. 

Holy Evangelists’ Principal Claire Robinson told us how she and her staff are working towards the “eventual reopening” of the Twinbrook primary and nursery unit. 

“I won’t lie and say I’m not very anxious and I know all my staff are, but we have to accept it is what it is,” she said. “Currently I’m looking at all the comments parents have shared on ‘Survey Monkey’, it was staggering to see such a high number of replies, which shows parents are also concerned, but accepting about the new school normal. We are looking at how we can implement measures to ensure our children and staff are safe, happy and confident to be back in the classrooms.”

Claire told the Andersonstown News that the school is awaiting formal guidance from the Department of Education “but in the interim we are giving the school a deep clean, setting out desks using the two-metre distance guidance and ensuring safe movement around the school. I won’t lie and say its going to be easy, it is a challenge, but I also believe that with parental support and help in preparing the children over the coming months, we can embrace the new normal.”

She continued: “We have asked parents to take time to teach the children the importance of washing their hands, using tissues to cover their mouth and nose and do fun activities to practice social distancing, as these activities will be with us all for the near future. We will decorate the school with child friendly reminders, and last week’s video challenge was for the children to design posters. We want them to reinforce the messages in their own words, as this can have more impact than fancy printed posters. 

“In terms of costs, we didn’t plan to have to spend additional money on this level of health and safety and I feel the Department need to ensure all schools are given additional funding to help the purchasing of items to help set up school buildings.”

Claire spoke of how resilient children are at adapting to their surroundings. 

“Children adapt well to each new school year and the usual changes, such as a new classroom, a new teacher and work becoming challenging. We will try our best to make sure school life is still fun, creative and enjoyable for every child. Yes, there will be changes to class layouts, playtimes and movement, but we will work with the children to make sure they understand why things are different and to help them grasp that it won’t be forever. 

“As a mummy of two post-primary children, I’m anxious that they have missed so much face-to-face learning, will they now be limited with subjects? Can all subjects be delivered when they return to school? Post-primary is a different kettle of fish,” she said. 

Speaking to the Andersonstown News St Oliver Plunkett Primary School Principal Paddy McCabe said that work was also underway in the school to prep ahead for the new school term. 

“Our cleaning team has been in and basically stripped most of our classes out, plan-wise, at this stage we can fit 10 to 12 pupils to a classroom adhering to the two-metre social distance guideline. At this stage we are waiting on confirmation, clarity from the Department this will be the case or will it be reduced to one and a half metres or will the Dutch model be adopted in that there was no social distancing implemented between children. 

“We are putting in place a one-way system throughout the school and staggered drop-off and pick-up times. We have ordered PPE, as much as we can, from where we can, in terms of gloves, aprons, masks and hand sanitizer. When we look to how we bring the children back we are looking to social bubbles, creating social bubbles where the children would have their break, lunch in their own classroom. We are endeavouring to ensure that family groupings will be in school at the same time to try and minimise the impact on families.”