As we move into the third year of the pandemic, we are faced with a desire to function as normal, pretend everything is ok and focus on what matters. In the context of schools that is education, updating our technology and improving student achievement through progressive practice.
In 2020, during the first shutdown, running our school from home, surrounded by the beginnings of a global pandemic, where vaccinations were only on the horizon, our school climate revolved around keeping things going, upskilling our staff and managing the anxiety and fear of a virus that was killing people. It was a scary period and we held on to our family and work connections as bonds of support and sanity. A Harvard report at the time stated that the pandemic cycle could go on for five years.
The year 2021 certainly brought more hope and normality as Verdala International School (VIS), like many schools, managed to remain open with only eight sporadic student cases. Staff got vaccinated and we felt more calm. We were able to manage our social distancing at VIS, cover the school in perspex and we got used to wearing masks and making lots of videos. We zoomed in parents to presentations and held our first virtual AGM.
All things considered, it was a year to be proud of, as we grew in our crisis management, our teaching methods and our resilience. We had adapted for so long that everyone got used to the masks and limitations and once the Secondary School students were vaccinated, staff had booster jabs and younger student vaccinations were in process, things looked up.
With 47 nationalities across our community, there has been a hotpot of opinion surrounding the pandemic. In an educational context, this is the moment to integrate real life into the curriculum and debate the range of perspectives and ethics and the responsibilities of individuals and society.
Although we adapted to the new norm, VIS was recently jolted by the Omicron wave
For our young people living through this historical event, this will be a resounding part of their story. To understand the context of why some countries are ahead of the curve with vaccinations gives an insight into humanity, politics and medical opinion. We will be judged by our actions in the future; a perfect teachable moment that our students can relate to.
Although we adapted to the new norm, VIS was recently jolted by the Omicron wave. Despite being fully equipped, massively vaccinated and ready with protocols for all events, we got hit by this variant in a way we weren’t before.
This highly transmissible version meant that there was an onslaught of staff in self-isolation. One student or staff member getting infected would ripple out so quickly that we were having to send students and up to 20 staff home on any given day.
We are guided by the contact tracing team and beholden to their very specific school rules, therefore, the impact on our learning environment was severe. A member of staff would be running a class and mid-lesson be told to go home, it would take up to 24-72 hours to resolve who was on self-isolation, then return to school, only for another case to surface and the loop starts again.
We tried hybrid mode, half in, half out, but ultimately had to close our Secondary School for a week.
However, a noticeable change from a year ago is that the students are now quite comfortable about moving in and out of distance learning mode.
There is no doubt that this is a blip; once the wave eases off, we will no doubt settle down again, pick ourselves up, as those many on self-isolation gradually return and we find our “normal” again.
However, there isn’t a normal anymore, there is only adaptation and building our resilience is the only way forward. Another teachable moment for our young people who are growing up in a world where to strive and thrive you have to be flexible, change your modus operandi at short notice and keep nudging forwards in a context of ebb and flow.
Totty Aris is head, Verdala International School
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