As school activities for Grade 7s and 12s resume across the country, many are anxious about the toll it will take on the national health system and the health of the pupils and staff. Some schools, being under-resourced, feel unprepared for what awaits them. Others, like Pinelands North Primary School, feel that they are ready.

The school welcomed their grade 7s enthusiastically on June 1 in an effort to keep spirits high. Teachers and staff dressed up in silly, brightly-coloured outfits, as they blasted music and danced to welcome the pupils as they arrived.

Much effort went into the planning of COVID-19 management, for the reopening of the school. With all social distancing measures put in place, not only inside the school halls but also on the fields for break time, the learners had an uplifting first day back.

Watch their social distancing in action here: 

The reopening of schools is a highly criticised decision. Thus far, it has been opposed by One South Africa Movement leader Mmusi Maimane as well as the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC), according to EWN.

There has also been much confusion over when pupils were to return to school, with some in the Western Cape returning this week. 

Suzi Cinderey, a member of the Pinelands North Primary School’s COVID-19 operations management team said that while it is important for children to return, the manner in which it was organised by the government was haphazard and chaotic.

“The way that the return to school has been incredibly confusing,” she said in reference to “the mixed messages that have been given.”

“It has created a lot of discomfort and distrust between the school and the authorities they have to answer to.” 

Despite that, it seems that the school has thrived under pressure and has come up with creative ways to ensure children stay safe while they learn and have fun. 

According to Cinderey, the school has gone out of their way to ensure that the kids remain safe from COVID-19 on the school grounds.

“We have completely reimagined the space inside the school,” she said. About the return of grade 7’s this week, Cinderey was jovial. “We were born ready,” she joked. 

In their approach to safety measures, in addition to those set out by the government, Cinderey said they have implemented “systems all over the school managing social distancing in the interior of the building”.

These include social distancing lines for entrance and exit, rooms are marked for limited entry, sanitiser at all entrances, every child is contained at their desk and even have their own bins to dispose of tissues, and marked school yards for break time. 

“At first I was very apprehensive and scared that the school was about to open knowing that our pandemic was going to escalate,” said Grade 7 teacher Ashlyn Wagner, who has chronic conditions that make catching the virus even more dangerous for him.

After returning, however, he feels much safer. “Our school did everything in their power to really think out of the box to make sure every single person, not just the pupils, the staff too, are safe and that really reassured me,” he said.

Wagner said staff were prepped extensively and they would not even be handing worksheets out to pupils. 

The school also set out to ensure that learners’ mental wellbeing was steady during this time. Cinderey said it was important to create a non-threatening atmosphere.

“We decorated our school really brightly and festively to make it comfortable, so that their emotional wellbeing was kept in mind,” she said. Pupils were also given orientation through videos which were sent to them before they arrived back, and orientation on arrival so that they could be comfortable. 

To plan all of this, the school formed a COVID-19 management team early in the lockdown. “Layer upon layer we have built up our system,” said Cinderey.

Also read: Superheroes welcome back pupils at Table View Primary

Also read: Paediatric Association raises strong argument on why kids should return to school

Picture: Screenshot from video

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