Principal of Douglas Park School Gareth Sinton said information sharing was one of the keys to smoothing the transition back to school. PHOTO/ARTHUR HAWKES

ARTHUR HAWKES
arthur.hawkes@age.co.nz

Schools went back on Monday, preparing the region’s children for the world that lies ahead of them – but it’s a world now irreversibly changed.

This has led to growing anxiety in some pupils and parents about the safety of school, as well as the wider environment.

Tim Nelson, the principal of Lakeview School in Masterton, has been overseeing the shift from distance learning to classroom curriculum.

“To start with, our focus will be on well-being and dealing with children’s anxiety,” Nelson said.

“I think people are feeling their way at the moment, and because of the amount of media coverage there are kids with high levels of anxiety, and some parents and caregivers as well.”

Nelson said the school was “not close to full”.

On Monday they had 290 pupils, Tuesday they had 310. Full attendance at Lakeview should be 417 pupils.

This came after Minister of Education Chris Hipkins’ comments that a number of schools would likely be about “20 per cent light”.

“[The covid-19 lockdown] was longer than the Christmas holiday break,” Nelson said. “So, it will also be the usual focus on building class relationships.

“At Level 1, I will be in contact with all parents, to see how they’re feeling. My expectation is that a lot more will come back at Level 1, but the parents are doing what they think is best for their children.”

Principal of Gladstone School, Belinda Bunny, said that they were “back to full capacity”.

Gladstone’s focus was also on fostering a safe space for returning children.

“We’re really focusing this week and next on the kids’ health and well-being; them going back to school and being happy,” Bunny said.

“We’re taking a low-key approach, not worrying too much about where we got up to. We’re really just making sure the kids are happy and comfortable at school, which they are.

“They’ve been loving reconnecting with their friends, particularly yesterday [Monday], being outside in the sunshine playing games, running around, being active.

“Initially, before school started, there was a little bit of anxiety, but once they got there and through the gates they realised that school hadn’t changed too much, apart from some health and hygiene practices in place – that it’s not scary to be here, it’s fun.

Gareth Sinton, principal of Douglas Park School, said that attendance was around 93 per cent.

“Of the kids that aren’t here, it’s a handful who have medical reasons, and the rest are parents doing the right thing,” Sinton said.

“If they’ve got a runny nose, or a cough or a cold, they’re keeping them home as we’ve asked, which is great.”

Sinton also made the decision to allow parents to come in for short periods at drop-off and pick-up times.

“It’s been a bit of work factoring everyone into the contact tracing register, but it’s been a really nice decision for our parents and our kids, so they could have that support on the way in, and didn’t have to be dropped off at the gates.

“Some of our five-year-olds actually started school during lockdown, so for some it was actually their first physical day of school. It was really nice, and the parents really appreciated that.”

Sinton said the school tried to allay any anxieties in parents and pupils by being clear and concise, sharing information widely.

“We were totally transparent and sharing a lot of information with parents; what the coronavirus actually was, why hand washing was important.

“That information flow, informing parents what we were doing and our health and safety stuff, we found really beneficial for everyone.

“The nicest thing was having the sounds of kids’ laughter, hearing that around the playground. Some classes had activities planned where they’d get into a circle and share their lockdown experiences.

“Teachers had left a certain amount of time to do that, and it ended up being double or triple that, just because the kids wanted to connect and talk to each other.”



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