More schools continue to reopen around the world. While we are coming to terms with social distancing becoming the ‘new normal’, what does it really take when re-opening international schools?
We are seeing more schools in Europe begin to re-open. Schools are prioritising health and safety precautions and student and staff wellbeing. Beyond this, they are really excited for students and teachers being united, again. The British School Netherlands opened their junior school to half capacity on the 11th May. The government allowed re-openings for primary levels from that date and BSN worked towards ensuring students and staff safety and wellbeing were considered. On their website they stated that: “While we are all duly cautious about reopening of the school campuses, staff and students are also excited and happy to see each other again. This will be the longest time in the students’ school careers that they have not seen their teachers. The face to face interaction has been greatly missed.”
We also have a first hand account from principal Paul Walton, British International School, Ljubljana. On Monday 18th May, they re-opened their premises, welcoming students back into the building. Paul shares with us the detailed procedures and measures taken to re-open an international school post lockdown:
It takes a team and a strategy.
“Following a carefully planned ‘staggered start’ of cohorts and a comprehensive reopening guide shared through our school website, this was a very exciting time for the whole community. Leading the programme to integrate learners back to school has been a highly coordinated and synchronised challenge involving a range of stakeholders and a host of significant decisions.
Slovenia, having declared the end of the epidemic last week, is reopening its borders and slowly relaxing restrictions throughout the country. Following these measures, we organised an extensive list of advice, informative links and guidance for everyone to adhere to. With safety as our number one priority, the Senior Leadership Team coordinated the return of students with teachers transitioning from high-quality blended learning opportunities back into their familiar classroom timetables.
As part of the Orbital Education Group, we are able to collaborate with other school leaders, from Qatar to Shanghai, to share best practice, use their experiences, advice and support as we meticulously reconfigure our learning spaces and procedures to ensure a safe, successful and seamless move from using the popular blended learning environment to compliment further by adding a physical classroom setting for the students to enjoy.”
Check-ins & support for all involved.
“Moving back from online learning included a range of ‘check-ins’ with staff through emails, phone calls and apps to allow video conferencing to discuss wellbeing, working arrangements and to support our colleagues. Additionally, the school has offered a range of healthy eating tips, exercises, as well as virtual social events during this time to help our staff.
Our students have been busy this week and it’s been fantastic to hear things such as “It’s good to socialise again”, “I’ve missed my teacher and friends” and “I’m so happy to be back, it’s exciting to return”. Being back in the school environment is essential for their wellbeing as this has given them opportunities to build relationships, play games with others and interact with each other.”
A rigorous health & safety protocol.
“To ensure everyone’s safety on site, a full review and assessment of the school was completed a week before the official re-opening. This includes a deep clean, room layouts reconfigured to meet health and safety expectations and wide-ranging hygiene provision for everyone. These measures were checked again over the weekend and prior to the arrival of our students. Our challenges included the physical change to the learning environment at school, as this now featured a range of visible measures for safety that could have potentially dampened the spirits of our younger students upon their return.
With parents and teachers modelling the correct cleansing of hands, physical distancing and wearing masks, this was a fantastic addition to embed prevention routines and share good practice across our community. We also planned accordingly to reduce larger gatherings e.g. assemblies, large group activities and events to ensure the safety of the students. There has been significant pastoral care, support and welfare offered to our students during this time of blended learning. Whilst retaining the best of online learning provision, the addition of their normal routines in the school compliments very well to facilitate opportunities to help, reassure and listen to them through this changeover. This is an incredible area of strength that we are especially proud of as a school due to the positive and respectful relationships between the staff and students.”
Being reunited at last!
“Our first morning back began with teachers greeting the children as they arrived at school full of energy and liveliness. They were extremely happy to be back to see their teachers and were visibly excited to greet their peers after the past couple of months apart.
The students then moved into classrooms and followed the guidance for the number of students in the room, desk spacing, and cough and hand hygiene to ensure that everyone was as safe as possible. The attitude of the students was exemplary as they harmoniously accommodated the new changes with hygiene and distancing in a calm and composed manner. Once lessons started, it was very much back to ‘normal’ with everybody enjoying a rich variety of learning experiences and stimulating interactions with all those around them.
Photographs of the lessons during the day captured the positive mood amongst the students as they enjoyed being back in their classrooms, out exercising with our PE team and even participating in some outdoor learning in our Woodland area on site. The late-afternoon sunshine was out overlooking our students during their activities, bringing to an end a perfect first day back to school for everyone involved.
As the students left, I felt a huge pride in working with such a dedicated and committed team of staff who have gone above and beyond expectations during this unprecedented time. We look forward to a successful term ahead with a warm optimism and pleasure of working with our students again at school.”
Thanks so much to Paul for the detailed account of what it takes to re-open an international school. It’s clear that substantial precaution has been taken while still creating a supportive learning environment and celebrating the return for students, teachers and parents. It’s great to see the community and strength observed in international schools during this challenging time. Karren van Zoest, Headteacher at BSN, further adds to Paul Walton’s sentiment well: “Schools are the very embodiment of people being together and yet we have managed to be together – apart. As we now begin the journey towards being together once again, I know that we do so with an even stronger one-school bond.”