Returning pupils flock to school

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Good to be back .. St Francis Xavier School pupils Evie Simonson (8) and Toby Palmer (9) celebrate returning to school in Maryhill yesterday. PHOTO: SHAWN MCAVINUE

Smiling pupils stormed schools across Dunedin as learning came back to classrooms in Alert Level 2.

St Francis Xavier School principal Carmel Jolly said a “fantastic” 97% of the school’s 116 pupils returned to the classroom on Monday, after being away for about two months to fight against the spread of Covid-19.

Most of the pupils who stayed at home had vulnerable people living in their home, so they were delaying their returns.

The returning pupils this week included four new entrants.

“They’ve been great.”

New protocols had been introduced at the school, including parents dropping children at the school gates in Benhar St and Mitchell Ave – “the kiss and hug zones” – rather than on school grounds.

Safety first .. St Francis Xavier School principal Carmel Jolly prepares to squirt sanitiser in the hands of pupils as they arrive at school. PHOTO: SHAWN MCAVINUE

On entering the school, pupils were given a squirt of hand sanitiser from Mrs Jolly, who each morning, stands next to a colourful sign reading “we’re happy to see you”.

The children had adapted easily to the changes, Mrs Jolly said.

“They’re so happy to be back – they come running in, smiling.”

The sight of the children playing in the playground was “lovely”.

She thanked the school’s “amazing whanau” for helping their children distance-learn during lockdown.

During the lockdown the school held online “virtual” events for pupils including a disco, cultural event, dessert night and a game of bingo.

Year 3 pupil Evie Simonson said she enjoyed having online classes using the software Zoom.

In one Zoom meeting, she showed he classmates her newest pet, an orphaned hedgehog her father found, which her family had named Hokey Pokey.

“We call him Hokey for short.”

Year 5 pupil Toby Palmer said it was great to be back at school.

“I love seeing the smiles on everyone’s faces.”

Logan Park High School co-principal Kristan Mouat said pupils were happy to be back at school socialising and reconnecting with their friends and teachers.

Good hygiene practices around coughing and sneezing were reinforced, as well as keeping surfaces clean, she said.

“And as much as possible maintaining that distance, not being in each other’s personal space bubbles.”

Only 10 of the school’s 700 pupils were staying at home.

Of these, most had family members with compromised immune systems.

They were staying in touch with their teachers regarding their work.

Tahuna Normal Intermediate principal Tony Hunter said school had got off to a “fantastic start” since welcoming pupils back.

Attendance was at about 90% so far this week, and the pupils were happy to be at school.

The school had made changes, such as having pupils arrive and leave via different gates, and it had gone “very smoothly”.

The weather had also played its part which meant pupils could be outside, and spread out, during break times.

“We’re very happy with the way things are tracking at the moment,” Mr Hunter said.