Kildare principals face challenges of reopening schools

All change: Students will return to school in September in different circumstances to when they left in March

Louise McCarthy

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Louise McCarthy

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Kildare principals face challenges of reopening schools

File photo of Richard Daly, Athy College principal

Louise McCarthynews@leinsterleader.ie

Principals across County Kildare are busy making preparations for students’ return to school this September.

Those returning to Athy College will find a very different school to the one they left in March, according to Richard Daly, principal of the 500-student secondary.

Students will use hand sanitisers on entering the building, and there will be a one-way system in operation around the school. Desks will be spaced out in excess of a metre in classrooms.

An average 49-metre square classroom will cater for 24 pupils, but the Department of Education says that they must wear face coverings, as they will be only one metre apart.

Mr Daly anticipates that the biggest challenge for teachers and students will be the wearing of masks. He added that many teachers will look at the option of wearing a visor, as that could give the students the opportunity of seeing teachers’ facial expressions.

The touching and handling of masks will be taught at school, as well as hygiene etiquette, such as coughing and proper hand-washing.

Mr Daly says that there are complications with a number of subjects such as art, home economics, metal work, and so on. He said: “We have removed computers, they are all in storage, because of the keyboards, we would have to be cleaning them all the time.” The students will use Chrome books and he says that a lot of schools are now looking at not having copies, but replacing hand-writing with typing.

He said: “There are problems with coats. This is going to be the new reality, we have to get into a pattern of living with it. We are fortunate that we are in a new building, there are wider corridors. We are awaiting an extension, there is a hot water supply to the classrooms, we are fortunate there.”

Mr Daly says that not too many teachers will be picking up copies now, and that there will be a lot of technology-enhanced learning.

He said: “We have been delivering education remotely and there will be a similarity to that. They will be submitting work online, so that there is no contact.”

He said that the sporting arrangements will follow those of the GAA club and said that youngsters will be allowed play non-contact sports.

While students and teachers will be going ‘into the unknown' during this unusual return to school, Mr Daly says that he and his staff will work to try and make it a positive experience for them all.

Students will be able to remove their masks once outside — before school, at breaktime and at lunchtime — and will be able to see each others’ faces and chat without wearing their masks.

During lunchtime, the provision of food in the school will be staggered, and will involve pre-packaged meals.

The principal saidthat a lot of attention needs to be given to Leaving Certs and the 120 incoming first years, who are not only coming into a new school, but will be meeting new teachers and classmates with masked faces.

“In many cases they have missed out on confirmations as well,” he said. “I would try and make it as positive as possible for them.”

Meanwhile, Caroline Herity, principal of Piper's Hill College in Naas and her teachers are looking forward to a phased return to school from August 27.

“We're excited to be reopening, but there will be challenges like coping with how the students arrive at the school and how they interact when on breaks, and at lunchtime. But nothing beats having students in front of you; the teachers want face to face interaction,” she said

Ciarán Keegan, principal of Naas Community College, said that among the school’s chief responses to reopening during Covid-19 are providing hand sanitation, practising respiratory hygiene and generally making sure the environment is right.

The students will return to an altered environmnet and classrooms have been newly laid out to ensure there is adequate space.

“Fortunately our classroom size, at 59 square metres, is bigger than the older size of 45 square metres, so we have been able to achieve this,” he said.