IT was a momentous day at Blessed Trinity College on Tuesday as staff welcomed back 1,250 pupils together for the first time since March.
Pupils at the North Belfast school had returned in recent days on a staggered basis but this week marked their full return as a school across the Antrim Road and Somerton Road sites.
Students returned to a very different school environment post Covid-19 lockdown with a number of key measures in place to ensure safety for everyone.
Principal Jim McKeever explained: “The school is very different. There is a one-way system, students have a staggered start and finish to the day.
“There are hand sanitisers everywhere you look
“It is compulsory to wear face coverings in corridors and communal areas.
“Children usually follow a timetable and walk around the school but the new way is to create social bubbles.
“They stay in the same room, sit on the same chair and the teachers come to them.
“There is a lot less movement in the corridors because that is how you minimize the spread of the virus.
“It is really very different but society is and so schools have to be as well
“We also have no extra-curricular activities such as sport and we are still waiting on guidance from Department on that.”
Despite the changes, Jim stressed the importance of schools being back for pupils' mental health and emotional wellbeing.
“It was fantastic to see them all back. It gives you such a buzz.
“Young people belong in a school.
“The older ones seem happy to get back into some sort of routine again by going to school. One child said to me he just wants to get ‘stuck into learning again’.
“Even under the masks, there were smiles and a lot of happy children here.
“It is important for the children to be back at school for their mental health and emotional wellbeing.
“We now have that one-on-one contact back where we can support each and every child through any issues in their lives. This was the hardest thing to do with remote learning.
“It is not just about passing exams.”
Praising the students on day one, Jim added: “The young people seem to recognise it is important to help each other and stay safe.
“I was pleasantly surprised how adaptable the young people were but they understand the virus can affect themselves, the staff and their loved ones at home.
“We are all in this together. I am immensely proud of them and their approach to their new normal. This is the new normal until we get a vaccine.”