Back to school preparations a huge challenge for our Donegal educators

A view of Donegal through the coronoavirus crisis by journalist Siobhán McNamara

A massive challenge ahead for Donegal schools

A massive challenge ahead for Donegal schools

When schools closed back in March I don't think anyone really believed that it would only be for the initial two weeks as announced at the time. 

The closure was clearly going to last until the upcoming Easter holidays, and perhaps even through to the summer break. 

Regardless of how long we thought it would last, we felt that when schools reopened it would be as normal, with either a vaccine or cure in place and the virus well under control.

But it will be far from normal. I can only imagine the nightmare it must be for school management at the moment as they try to get everything in place during  August to welcome students back by the end of the month.

There is talk of taking on many substitute teachers to allow for smaller class groups and better physical distancing. 

But where are these teachers going to go? Many schools are at full capacity. They certainly don't have spare rooms for extra  teachers and classes to set up. The priority of course is to reduce the risk of coronavirus transmission, so any spare space such as indoor recreation areas, libraries etc may well be sequestered for teaching purposes.

St Columba's College in Stranorlar recently gave away its two-seater tables because they were being replaced by single tables. Other schools could be looking at the same idea, or using other ways to ensure that there is adequate physical distancing.

Among the many other things which  are being discussed and may have to be implemented are staggered lunch breaks and one-way systems where practicable. 

No doubt there will be some children who will not be ready to return because of conditions that make themselves or people in their household  medically vulnerable. 

There will also most likely be high levels of anxiety among some children and teenagers who have barely left their own homes since March.

And then  there is the matter of educating children and young people, the main business of schools.

It will be a challenge like never before for our schools, providing a safe environment that is also conducive to learning. As parents, the best we can do is support them, be patient as they get everything in place, and gently prepare our young people for the return to school - assure them that steps are being taken for their safety, encourage them to voice any concerns about the return to school, and try to work through them together.

It will be a nervous time for parents and young people, as well as for school staff. But we are all working towards the same goal and each have a part to play.

And the most important thing that everyone can do is continue to practice good hand and respiratory hygiene, remember to respect physical distancing and wear masks in public spaces.

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