School adapts to new learning environment

Shandre Reid has her temperature checked before entering the school.

The reopening of schools has seen pupils and teachers having to adapt quickly to a learning environment very different to the one they left behind before lockdown.

Grade 7s and matrics have been returning to schools since the start of the month as part of a staggered reopening of the country’s education system.

About half of Belmore Primary School’s Grade 7s were back on Monday June 8, with slightly more the next day.

However, principal Carol Poole said most parents had then kept their children home on Wednesday because of the heavy rains.

The Hanover Park school has a Grade 7 cohort of 90 pupils, usually split between three classrooms, but because of physical-distancing requirements they now use nine classrooms with about 12 pupils in each. Grade 5 and Grade 6 teachers have been roped in to teach Grade 7s to make this change possible.

Ms Poole said the children had had some anxiety on the first day about having new teachers or being split from their friends, but, for the most part, they were happy to be back at school.

“They were so happy to see each other, and some of them reached out to hug each other but quickly realised that they couldn’t, and teachers also stepped in and reminded them.”

The school day starts at 8am, but the pupils have to be screened first so they only get to their classes at about 8.30am.

“In the class, their desks are 1.5 metres apart, and whenever they leave and enter the class they have to sanitise their hands.

“Pupils must also change their mask to a clean mask at midday everyday,” Ms Poole said.

The pupils had orientation training on the first day back to learn about Covid-19 safety regulations and the new rules at school.

Ms Poole said parents who had opted to keep their children home for now would need to fetch their children’s school work so they did not fall behind.

Teachers posted themselves at bathrooms to check pupils were sanitising before returning to class, and monitored pupils during the staggered break times to enforce physical distancing.

Tape marks off areas in the hall, playground and other parts of the school to help pupils keep their distance from each other.

The curriculum has been adjusted to make it easier for pupils to get through important work by year end.

“The June exams have been cancelled, and pupils will write exams in November,” Ms Poole said.

“Instead of the school year ending in the first week of December, schools will now close on the 15th of December, which means that school holidays will be shorter.”

As if Covid-19 isn’t enough of a problem, Belmore Primary is in the heart of an area rocked by gang violence, and
Ms Poole said it had nothing like the resources of schools in more affluent areas. For example, teachers could not simply email assignments to parents and expect them to print it out for their children.

“Our pupils need us to do our best for them; they depend on us,” Ms Poole said.

“We want the best for our pupils, and we are trying to do things to the best of our ability with what we have. We want good things for our pupils, and we are trying to uplift our community and the lives of our pupils. We are trying to do the best in this situation.”

Ms Poole said her teachers’ greatest fear was that the country had not yet hit its infection peak and the Western Cape had the highest number of cases.

Belmore Primary Grade 7 teacher Charnelle Arendse said lesson plans and assessment programmes had been adapted to the unprecedented circumstances.

“Increasing Covid-19 cases and soaring death rates are but a few of the challenges we face daily, and we are truly trying our best to teach amidst it all.” 

Grade 7 pupil Ubaid Petersen said he was glad to be back at school and with his friends but disappointed he couldn’t play soccer.

His mother, Sumayah Isaacs, said she had been anxious about sending him back but had felt better about it after learning of the school’s safety measures.

“When he gets home, he goes straight to the bathroom to wash and change his clothes, and I wash his clothes he had on. I make duah that all children and educators stay safe through this time including all of us,” she said.