Returning to School - What needs to be in place and what are the upsides?
Like schools around the world, ACS International Schools in the UK and Qatar were closed to on-campus learning for much of the spring 2020 semester as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Like so many schools it took a lot of resilience, sacrifice and hard work to sustain our community through a different and difficult year. However, we now anticipate greeting all of our returning students back in person from late August, as well as welcoming hundreds of new families to our extended community. Our schools are ready to return to school after lockdown and have taken time to implement new health and safety regulations for our communities. Here is an overview of how we are approaching this ‘new normal’ and what we think is important for all schools to have in place.
HEALTH, SAFETY & WELL BEING ON CAMPUS
At all times we prioritise the health, safety, and wellbeing of our community. Health and safety committees at each campus are led by a full-time group health and safety professional with industry-leading external advisers. We advocate fully complying with UK Government guidance on the each aspect of the return to school: following public health advice, and we have revisited all aspects of school operations, planning robust contingencies for further outbreaks, and carefully assessing all health and safety risks.
From boarding the bus in the morning, to reaching their classrooms, what classrooms look like, how students study music, science, art and physical education, where they eat lunch, changes to recess, providing after-school clubs and activities, and getting home safely at night – the health and safety of students, teachers, staff and visitors has to been the number one priority. The following should be in place for students’ return to school:
- Staff trained in infection control, · enhanced cleaning regimes for all facilities following British Institute of Cleaning Science guidelines.
- Review of every indoor environment with respect to HVAC profile and air circulation patterns.
- Children grouped together in bubbles
- Contact between groups avoided
- Classrooms arranged with forward facing desk
- Staff maintaining distance from pupils and other staff as much as possible
- Hand- sanitisers available in all classrooms
BLENDED LEARNING. READY TO PIVOT
During uncertain times, learning and teaching must remain dynamic and flexible and able to meet the needs of teachers and students whether they are all together in school - or not. Whilst it poses serious challenges to any school, many teachers and students have developed new skills during lockdown and could chart exceptional progress. Many students still completed priority curriculum work and remained engaged at high levels through the end of the school year.
The aim is to bring this experience forward into the new school year. School leaders should work to identify students who couldn’t complete all their learning requirements during lockdown; look to accelerate others’ learning gains and ensure social-emotional foundations are in place to support all students but especially vulnerable students who struggled more during distance-learning to get them back on track.
In a blended model, learning happens both online (at a distance) and at school (in person) together in a unified instructional design. They truly “blend” to create an enriched and more personalised learning experience – often driven by students’ own choices and changing needs. Learning and teaching must remain dynamic and flexible, able to meet the needs of teachers and students whether they are all together in school - or not. Blended learning models should :
- Support flexible models of delivery (where students may be learning in class and remotely at the same time), and situations in which groups may need to pivot quickly again to learning exclusively at home. · Be based on an international network of good practice. ACS uses the Modern Classrooms Project
- Focus on student mastery through personalised, self-paced learning structure
- Strengthen students’ academic self-management skills
- Develop students’ digital competencies
- Root teaching in current understandings about how people’s brains work and how they learn
Families should look to ensure their school provides this range of support under a blended learning model and be ready to pivot should the situation change.
ENJOYING SPORTS AND OUTDOOR ACTIVITIES SAFELY
Schools with extensive outdoor spaces and athletic and sports facilities are privileged in being able to accommodate activities in a Covid-safe world. These excellent fresh-air environments provide inspiring spaces in which to learn, play and compete. Schools can explore more local competitions, with less travel when conditions allow and develop virtual sports tournaments. Adjusting seasons and making the most of wide spaces and extensive facilities, allows schools to seize this opportunity to improve physical education, school sports, and physical activity for all students. Covid-safe gym facilities can ensure competitive athletes and winning teams will benefit from increased attention to strength and conditioning, basic skills and innovative practice plans. There may be limits on the kinds of physical activity allowed but athletic directors, PE and sport professionals, facilities managers and coaches can be creative and work together to ensure that students remain excited, engaged, and challenged on the court and in the field.
Campuses that benefit from fields, woodlands, playgrounds and green spaces can use these to support students’ health, well-being and personal development. The campus grounds provide living natural laboratories that also support sustainability education and outdoor learning. Students can be encouraged to become caring contributors who are sustaining the ecological systems and resources that support life and teachers can maximise outdoor learning across the curriculum, challenging students to develop practical and personal skills as well as academic knowledge. After all, there is no such thing as bad weather just bad outdoor clothes! The Covid-safe great outdoors beckons.
The world has been turned upside down and it may be some time before schools return to a ‘normal’ way of life again. Some things will change forever. With careful planning, strict health and safety measures and an innovative blended learning model of education with use of external learning and sports facilities, the new world may not be quite as scary as it seems.