Hands up, masks on: High school students face whole new year

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Year seven pupils Henry Holness, left, and Eddie Favell in class during their first day at Kingsdale Foundation School in London, Thursday, Sept. 3, 2020. Schools in England are starting to reopen with special measures in place to deal with Coronavirus. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

LONDON (AP) — Henry Holness said he had to sleep on it.

Having found out just two days ago that he had secured a place at his first choice of high school, the 11-year-old and his parents clearly had a big decision to make.

A day later, he decided to accept the offer from Kingsdale Foundation School in southeast London, joining about 400 other seventh-grade children embarking on the next — and perhaps most crucial — period in their learning, as many schools in England on Thursday restarted in-class lessons.

“It was really a lot of fun, and it was really great to see so many people again,” said the soccer-mad Holness.

Like countless others, he has been hungry for more human contact over the past few months during the coronavirus lockdown.

“Though COVID has clearly added complications to starting back at school, it’s important for Henry and all the other kids to get back into a normal routine,” said his mother, Liz Holness.

The coronavirus pandemic requires a lot from schools, which were closed in March as part of the lockdown imposed by the British government and are slowly reopening through next week.

One-way travel systems, hand sanitizing stations, temperature checks and the donning of face masks in communal areas such as corridors and stairwells are just some of the changes. Like all schools, Kingsdale has had to re-imagine how it safely delivers education in the coronavirus era.

No easy task, especially since Britain’s Conservative government has offered meandering or contradictory advice about how best to tame the pandemic that has killed at least 41,600 people in the country, the worst virus death toll in Europe.

Kingsdale, a turnaround school that is now consistently rated as outstanding and considered one of the British capital’s best, is welcoming back students in stages over the coming days, starting with the Year 7 students on Thursday. It won’t be until the middle of next week that the school will be bouncing to the rhythm of its 2,000 or so students.

It will be a very different school experience though, with students kept to their own year bubbles in order to limit interactions. Start times and lunch breaks will also be staggered.

“Necessity is indeed the mother of invention,” said Christine Matheson, the deputy headteacher at Kingsdale. “We believe we will be even better than we were before, despite having to overcome the logistical complexities of implementing a completely new timetable structure, social distancing, accelerated programmes of study for recovery and much-needed structured well-being packages.”

Many students were taking the changes in stride and have opted to wear masks in the classroom even though they’re not required.

“It felt fine going back to school, I didn’t really think about corona,” said Eddie Favell, also 11, after his first day at Kingsdale. “We have been wearing masks for so long now it is starting to feel normal.”

After six months being stuck at home, the reopening of all schools is clearly the single most important easing of the country’s lockdown and one that can trigger other changes, such as encouraging more parents back into the office.

For parents and children, just being able to disconnect from each other for a few hours is a reward in itself.

“I think both children and parents really need it,” said Sophie Favell, Eddie’s mum. “I am sure there will be issues and maybe local lockdowns along the way, but the schools all want the best for the pupils and as parents we have to do our best to support them.”

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Follow AP pandemic coverage at http://apnews.com/VirusOutbreakand https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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