‘Very excited’ primary school children return after prolonged closure

‘I think the last couple of months have been really wearing on them’ mother says

 

There were few long goodbyes as parents dropped children off at the gates of Holy Cross primary school, Dundrum, south Dublin, with the majority of children eagerly hurrying into the school on Monday morning.

Most were beaming as they greeted their teachers at the entrance, glad to be back after weeks of remote learning while cooped up at home.

At primary level junior infants up to second class returned on Monday, as well as sixth years in secondary schools.

Two junior infants, Grace and Holly McCann, were the first back into the classroom, as their mother Lorna teaches first class in Holy Cross.

“I think remote learning is very tricky, particularly for young children, even though I’m a teacher myself I still found my own two difficult to motivate,” Ms McCann told The Irish Times.

“You’re nearly putting in as many if not more hours into the remote learning, between planning, making videos, you’re doing Zoom calls, correcting the work on Seesaw, emailing parents, and trying to do the homeschooling as well,” she says.

For Grace and Holly, one of the toughest things about Covid-19, or “Mr Germs” as they call the virus, was not being able to see their friends, or their grandparents.

“Initially they were fine, but then as the weeks went on they were looking for school and missing their friends,” their mother says.

“As a teacher now my main focus is on play and interaction with the first class, give them time, time to talk and play,” she says.

One parent making the socially distanced school drop-off was mother of three Sinead Naughton, from Churchtown.

While 7-year-old Ben was back in class, Bobby (5) and Ellie (9), will not return to pre-school and school for another week and fortnight respectively.

This morning Ben had been “very excited” to return to class, Ms Naughton says. “He jumped out of bed which wouldn’t be his way, he hasn’t been up before half eight for the whole lockdown. He had the uniform laid out and everything,” she says.

For the older sister Ellie it was a difficult morning seeing her brother return to school when she was not. “She was down, but she played a blinder, she put on a bit of a show for him,” Ms Naughton says.

At times over the last year it felt like children had been “forgotten,” she says. “It’s such a prolonged period of time and I think the last couple of months have been really wearing on them,” she says.

Ultan Mac Mathúna, principal of Holy Cross School, Dundrum. Photograph Nick Bradshaw
Ultan Mac Mathúna, principal of Holy Cross School, Dundrum. Photograph Nick Bradshaw

In the few minutes before children began streaming through the corridors on Monday morning, principal Ultan Mac Mathúna dashed around handing each staff member a daffodil and chocolate bar as a welcome back gift.

Banners had been hung to welcome back the pupils, with a treat of hot chocolate planned after each class got settled.

The school closures had been “torture” on pupils, parents and staff, so reopening was “absolutely fantastic,” Mr Mac Mathúna says.

Principal at the school for 12 years, he is more concerned about the pandemic’s impact on children’s wellbeing, than catching up on lost teaching time.

“Teachers are well equipped to say what do we do to catch up here. It’s the other stuff that’s more important; learning how to play again, learning how to be a child amongst their peers, that’s the kind of hidden curriculum stuff that could get lost,” he says.

“In two, three, four years’ time we’ll look back and say this was terrible - we lost people. We won’t be saying there was a six-week delay on my future tense in Irish,” he says.

In Co Cork , balloons in the school colours of blue and yellow greeted pupils at the entrance to Scoil Chlíodhna NS in Carrigtwohill as children arrived.

One girl was so excited she arrived with a bunch of daffodils for principal Teresa Coughlan . Ms Coughlan asked the junior infants class their thoughts on being back after weeks of being “so good” at home for their parents.

The pupils were in agreement that the best thing about school was “playing and having fun.” Being out in the yard in the sunshine was also a big hit as was colouring.

Olivia Crawford enjoying her first day back at school in senior infants class at Scoil Cliodhna Community National School in Carrigtwohill, Co Cork Photograph: Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision
Olivia Crawford enjoying her first day back at school in senior infants class at Scoil Cliodhna Community National School in Carrigtwohill, Co Cork Photograph: Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision

Katie O’Keeffe says that she liked spending time at home with her new baby brother Conor but really missed her teacher. Jessica O’Driscoll says seeing all her friends made her happy. Lexi Desmond from senior infants said being home was made easier because of all of the “fun things” the teachers did over Zoom. She enjoyed being a big sister to brother Scott . Her classmate Maria Syed Ahmed said she really liked being back and was looking forward to her favourite subject maths.

Ms Coughlan says that she was really proud of the work her teachers did to stay in touch with pupils at this time of great stress and anxiety in the country.

“We had a Zoom every day. It was a social check in. The teachers ran through the work the children were going to do. It helped the children to feel connected.

“Our staff is quite young and tech savvy. They really hit the ground running this time.

“One big lesson we learned is that school is not just about academic progress. School is about social and emotional development.

“We are so excited to be back. The parents were too ! And the children love being with their friends.”

Teacher Darrine Taaffe helping out young students on their first day back at school in senior infants class at Scoil Cliodhna Community National School in Carrigtwohill, Co Cork. Photograph: Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision
Teacher Darrine Taaffe helping out young students on their first day back at school in senior infants class at Scoil Cliodhna Community National School in Carrigtwohill, Co Cork. Photograph: Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision
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