Playtime in the yard at St Mary’s Boys NS, Nenagh, on Monday last. Photograph: Bridget Delaney

‘It’s great to be back’ - schools reopen

Jubilant scenes were reported at local schools this week as students and staff returned to physical learning for the first time since December.

They were among 320,000 junior primary school and Leaving Certificate pupils to go back, along with special education students as part of Ireland's phased reopening of schools.

A total of 84 mainstream and Leaving Cert Applied students were back in the classroom at Nenagh CBS Secondary School on Monday.

Principal Karen O'Donnell said they were well-prepared for the return after two months of remote learning.

“There's a very positive air about them and they are keen to get going,” Ms O'Donnell said of the CBS boys after their first day back. “Their work ethic was very high during the online engagement through the remote teaching and learning, so we were able to hit the ground running, which is good now that they're back.”

REMOTE LEARNING

Ms O'Donnell said the remote learning worked out very well, with students and teachers availing of the Microsoft Teams online programme along with pre-recorded lessons and assignments. She said it is a challenge for teachers to balance the in-school teaching of Sixth Years with remote learning for their younger charges, but that they shared their students' sense of satisfaction in getting back to meeting one another again.

“The whole consensus today has been: ‘It's great to be back’,” Ms O'Donnell said on Monday. “We're taking it step by step so that they're not overwhelmed and that they can enjoy being back.

Some of them haven't seen anybody really in a long time. So the general consensus is that it's great to be back.”

Having met with all classes, the CBS principal said the school's Covid-19 safety protocols were addressed again. The guidance counsellor was also present to assist the Leaving Cert students with their future options.

“We had everything already in place so it was really just a case of re-familiarising ourselves with everything and getting going again,” Ms O'Donnell said. “The students are very resilient and they're very adaptive. They take to it very quickly.”

POSITIVE MENTAL HEALTH

Moneygall parent Marian Ryan also welcomed the students' return at Nenagh CBS. “I think they're just glad to get back to a routine,” she said on Monday. “They need that. Self-motivation will only get you so far.”

While she agreed that the remote learning experience was positive to a certain extent, Ms Ryan said it is no substitute for classroom interaction and that young people need to be able to meet one another for the sake of positive mental health.

It was similar story in Roscrea where Valerie Carey, the Acting Principal of the Sacred Heart Primary School, stated that, overall, there was a sense of relief that schools have begun to reopen.

“And there is a hope that we will continue to remain open and an optimism that we will welcome all our pupils and teachers back as soon as it is safe to do so,” said Ms Carey.

She described the efforts of teachers in her school in continuing to teach their students from home over the protracted lockdown as exceptional.

"Online teaching and learning are not ideal, but our team at Sacred Heart, Roscrea, has risen to the challenge. The co-operation between class teachers and special education teachers has been great to see.

“The support colleagues have given each other is fantastic and the beneficiaries of this effort have been the children. I cannot thank the school community enough for their diligence, the support they have given each other and their resilience over the last couple of months.”

Ms Carey said parents and children have really done their best in the efforts to link up with the school to continue distant education from home over the past two months. “The challenge for all parents and guardians has been immense,” said Ms Carey. “Poor broadband and the sharing of devices is also challenging; efforts to improve both needs to be addressed at national level. That said, the work that the parents and guardians have done with their children cannot be commended highly enough.”

Ms Carey added: “Having had a positive term between August and December with no cause to engage with public health officials, we are again well prepared for as safe a return as is possible.” Although there was some anxiety on returning, the school would be highly vigilant in its efforts to keep the virus out.

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