“WE’RE ready, we’re happy and we’re in a good place at the moment.”
Principal at Knockavoe School and Resource Centre, Sharon Cassidy is in no doubt about how staff, parents, children and she herself feels about the long-awaited return to school this week.
On Monday, after almost six months of empty classrooms, children across the district returned to their respective schools amid a buzz of excitement.
At Knockavoe, as with many other schools, a phased return for pupils is in place.
“We had half the children back on Monday,” Principal Cassidy explained. “We split them into two groups for a phased return. It’s about giving them a lead-in to help them adjust back to the school day and the school routine.
“This will also help them to build relationships and trust. When the school closed with lockdown we effectively disappeared from our children’s lives. So we need to build those relationships again and this will help alleviate concerns for staff as well.
“Health and safety is important – we had two full days of health and safety training and this is our biggest priority as well as getting the children back – but every single person wants normality.
“Everyone has concerns but everyone wants structure and routine.”
The local head-teacher remarked that it was “brilliant” having pupils back in the school this week.
“It was just lovely to welcome the children back,” she continued. “Our kids are so resilient as well. They came back in and had a brilliant morning.
“There was a great atmosphere around the school and a great buzz; the initial dread and fear of coming back dissipated because we just got on with it.”
And it was much the same story up the Melmount Road from Knockavoe at Holy Cross College, when the senior pupils returned following the educational hiatus.
“I must say, they have come back very enthusiastically,” principal, Clare Bradley remarked.
“They came into assembly when they arrived and we went through a whole list of rules and regulations… but the main message was that you’re back in Holy Cross but it’s a new normal.
“It’s early days but they have come back in sparkling new uniforms and glad to see each other.
“Staff too are naturally cautious but at the same time very willing to get used to the new normal and very willing to conform to the new protocols and regulations.
“Of course they’re glad to be back at work and keen to get on with the teaching in the classrooms which has been missing for such a long time.”
Both principals emphasised the need for strict hygiene as part of this new school normal and both outlined their hopes that further school closures do not come to pass.
“There was a real sense of team work and positivity and hopefulness at the minute,” Sharon Cassidy continued.
“We keep saying, it’s everybody’s responsibility and no-one can become complacent. But it’s an ever-changing situation and so fluid.
“We’re hopeful that working together we can overcome any challenges. We really don’t want to be in the position again of partial or full school closures.
“We’re in a good place now and hopefully we’ll stay that way.
Clare Bradley added, “Phased return is helping because we have time to spend with each year group and help them get used to the protocols, as well as listening and comforting them to get used to the transition.
“I sincerely hope that the schools can stay open. It would be a dreadful disappointment if they were to close again.
“But taking precedence over everything is health and safety.”