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44
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44 (139) 2020

Coping with the New Normal - Covid-19 and after

School’s out. What happens now?

By Tom McGrath, principal, British Primary School of Wilanow (BSW)
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On Friday 26 June we arranged our End of Year Ceremony on the final day of the academic year. In normal circumstances this would have been in an auditorium, packed to the rafters, with a miscellany of musical acts, drama performances, presentations, farewells and speeches. It would have been followed with a buffet and refreshments for the assembled community.

In the new reality, our event was a far more modest affair. It was held in the open air with all pupils and pupils seated at socially-distanced intervals. The participants were in face masks and visors. There were no presentations, no hand-shakes, no buffet or refreshments. The ceremony was not a whole-school event but a series of separate consecutive ceremonies, one year-group at a time. Our drama performance was a pre-recorded video that involved most rehearsals online but with some recording in the final days.

The contrast between the pre-Covid world and the current situation is striking. There was even a debate whether we should have any ceremony at all. However, we wanted to mark the end of this extraordinary academic year with some formal event and it was important for us to explore how we can operate in this new environment. Having a ceremony in these circumstances is in itself a success.

So the year has finished – what happens now?

BSW actually remains in operation through July as we offer a holiday-care programme for over 40 participants. Our programmes need to meet all sanitary regulations and we are arranging the activities to involve as much outdoor engagement and the least amount of screen time as possible. The summer is also an opportunity for us to explore and refine our approach to this situation and to be battle-ready for September 2020.

It remains very difficult to make any predictions about the landscape in Warsaw and in Poland in September. While the Polish prime minister has stated decisively that all schools will reopen on 1 September, there are fears of a further spike in Covid-19 infections arising from the interactions of holiday makers. While there are some studies that suggest that children are less likely to be infected or to carry the virus, these are not yet conclusive. While the economic cost of school closures is negative, the political cost of premature reopening needs also to be considered.

There are however a number of situations that are clear:

  • The Covid-19 virus will remain a concern for a considerable amount of time.

  • Lengthy school closures have a variety of negative consequences on the well-being of pupils.

  • Distance-learning works better with older pupils, but all pupils are more effective when they have regular time in school

  • International schools have a number of specific characteristics that add further complications to the situation

  • All institutions in Poland are subject to the regulatory supervision of the Polish authorities

The school is busy, however, preparing for the various options that may present themselves in the coming academic year.

We envisage four possible scenarios:

1.    Full-steam ahead:

We return in September, with all pupils and classes back at school and there are no impediments to operating the school in the traditional sense. While enhanced hygiene procedures are in place, the school operates as before the pandemic.

2.    Mostly full-steam ahead:

We operate with all pupils and classes back at school. We may face minimal restrictions on trips and external visits. We may restrict entry to the building and we may need to reorganise the canteen operation and the flow of pupils in the school, and there may be staggered entry in the morning, and staggered collection times. There may be more regular breaks to ventilate the school and allow for more fresh air.

3.    Limited return to school

This would be where sanitary restrictions limit the numbers per group and we are required to arrange for pupils to attend on a rota basis. There would then be a hybrid of distance learning and in-school provision.

4.    Delayed reopening due to pandemic situation:

We are not permitted to reopen due to government decree and then we need to move directly into a distance-learning provision.

We are also looking at the following proposals:

Staggering school starting/closing times

To manage regulatory restrictions, we may need to arrange staggered starts and staggered closure.

Developing student ´bubbles´ and control class sizes

We plan to divide students up into small groups to create ´bubbles´. Children in a bubble will remain together throughout the day, learning, eating, and playing together. They will not come into direct contact with other bubbles, and so reduce the chance of infection. We have been piloting this successfully since mid-May.

Minimising changeovers

We may need to rethink timetables to ensure that students only move around the school if absolutely necessary. A group ‘bubble’ can use one room for the entire day, with teachers entering the room as necessary. Minimising changes within the classroom must also be examined. By assigning students a specific desk and chair, as well as personal equipment including stationery and resources, we will minimise the risk of infection spreading.

Reorganising space

We have reorganised classrooms, opening up doors and windows, so that learning spaces are well ventilated and clutter free. We may consider developing one-way systems in stairwells and corridors while we may introduce floor markings to ensure social distancing is maintained.

Increased hygiene protocols

We have invested in more regular and deeper cleaning routines and we are now ozoning rooms on a very frequent basis. We have also implemented and embedded more thorough and more regular hand-washing protocols.

Further development of distance learning

In March we were thrown in at the deep end; our teachers and pupils quickly adapted to the new portals and learning platforms. We have the time to review these and make any necessary changes. We will need to include quality training for staff as well as purchase more devices. We plan to implement the solutions as a homework platform even if we reopen in the traditional sense, and if the need arises we should be able to move seamlessly to the virtual classroom.

Testing

There will be a clear role for regular and focused testing to keep the school community  
Covid-19 free.

Thus it looks as if we will have a busy summer at BSW; we are confident that we will be ready for the challenges ahead in September 2020

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