IN these strange times, which many people refer to as the ‘new normal’, how are students settling back into school life after nearly six months of home and online learning?
The Laois Nationalist asked Portlaoise College student Bridget Reidy Dundon, who returned to school on Wednesday 2 September, about how she got on during that time and how she is coping now.
Taking up the story, the teenager said: “School closed without warning on Thursday 12 March. Originally the shutdown was supposed to be for only two weeks, but it lasted nearly six months.
“During that time I was unable to see my friends and teachers. All of a shot, it became online learning on Google Classroom. It took a lot of trial and error to get used to learning this way. Different classes and teachers introduced different strategies to make sure we could continue our learning course and could complete it in time for the junior certificate.
“To be completely honest, life in school is different now. We have a one-way system in the corridors. We have to walk in single file down the left-hand side of the corridors and stairs. We have hand sanitising stations all around the school. We are asked to sanitise our desks and chairs before and after classes. To me, these things are small, but incredibly important. We have to work together to protect everyone in our school community.
“In my school, the junior students – first to third years – have base rooms. We are in one room for most of our subjects. We only move for our option classes, practical classes or classes with levels such as Irish and English.”
Bridget said: “The biggest change we have is wearing masks all day. It’s weird being unable to see everyone’s faces. It’s weird only seeing people’s eyes and forehead. The teachers are required to wear face shields when in the school and face masks along with the shield when they’re within one meter of a student. It’s difficult, especially because some people rely on seeing others’ facial expressions in order to understand. Often it’s impossible to even know who is speaking in a class of 24.
“The masks can feel a bit claustrophobic, so breathing breaks have been introduced to give students time to take their masks off outside and get some fresh air while socially distanced from other people in their class. We can take our masks off for PE and when we’re eating or drinking. On the other hand, wearing masks is also really awesome. They help us to keep safe and feel safe in school.
“I like to think about it this way: the coronavirus can’t stop us from learning; it may change the way we have to learn, but it can’t stop us.
“The biggest change that has caused me the most relief was the dropping of one of my classroom-based assessments (CBA) in every subject. This was awesome because the CBAs can be sort of stressful, depending on the work I have to do. Now I only have one CBA to do for most of my subjects.”
Bridget said: “Starting school again stirred a mix of emotions among students, both positive and negative. These included fear, anxiety, excitement, and happiness. We were at home for months without knowing when or if school was starting back in September.
“My first day of school was calming. Everything I needed to know about the new regulations was explained to me throughout the day. It took some time to adjust and get used to all the new changes. But now that I’m into the swing of it, everything is easy. I’m in the habit of sanitising my desk, chair and things after myself.
“It’s vital for students to be back and involved in class discussions about all the changes and how the coronavirus has affected the world around them. It is essential for us. The media provides us with so much misinformation and it has caused so much anxiety for everyone in and out of the school community. So having the conversations and not ignoring the virus is so important in providing a safe and comfortable environment for us, the students.
“My school has been brilliant. I feel informed, safe and comfortable. Being back has done a world of good for us all. I’m really happy to be back.”