One of the first institutions to feel the impact of the national lockdown was schools, which closed in March last year and have been struggling to gradually re-open ever since.
While the slow easing of lockdown restrictions have allowed schools to begin the transition back to almost-normal operations, it’s been a difficult process.
“One of the major impacts of this global pandemic on ordinary life is the sense of loss of opportunity students have felt,” said Stirling High School deputy principal Alan Webster.
“We have tried as hard as possible to create a sense of ‘normal’ – that things are still possible and you will have opportunities.”
School sport has made a welcome return recently along with other activities.
“Anything that we felt was safe to offer – masked, at a distance, preferably outside or at least in a large venue – has been offered, such as prefects and other leadership and service activities, public speaking, chess, Eco Club, small band practices, and so forth,” Webster said.
While Webster said that there were still difficulties ahead, he was optimistic.
“There are so many terrible challenges our community has faced over this year – death of loved ones, loss of income, isolation, fear – that the challenges of offering a ‘normal school day’ seem minor in comparison.
“While we are still not normal, the easing of restrictions has certainly allowed us to offer a lot more; in fact, pretty close to our normal busy, holistic curriculum beyond the classroom,” he said.
However, this doesn’t mean that schools are becoming lax on the health and safety front.
Far from it, said Webster.
“Our focus has always been primarily on safety, then academics, and then everything else, and our assessment was that virus transmission would occur mainly when people walked past each other or sat too close together.
“We thus minimised all movement in the school with a restructured timetable of longer lessons and minimal movement,” he said.
“We have also reduced the size of all classes (90% are below 25 in a class) so that we can safely accommodate the whole school in the school building at one time.”
Webster said they also followed all the necessary safety protocols and had implemented a system that limited interactions.
“With such an unusual challenge, we thought laterally and came up with a new way of doing things that kept the old strengths but avoided the new threats,” he said.