Many happy returns

Back to school: Collingwood Area School students arrive at the school gates early on Monday morning.

On Monday, Golden Bay students seemed very happy as they returned to the classroom after nearly two months of home-based learning. They were just some of the country’s 800,000 returning students who included the year 1 intake, who are effectively starting over, to year 13 NCEA students who are on the final stretch of their school careers.
Collingwood Area School
At Collingwood Area School, cars and buses began to arrive shortly after 8.15am discharging students of all ages at the school gates. It might have been a chilly five degrees, but the welcome was warm, with teachers and students greeting one another in the playground. Several older students took the opportunity to get in some early morning basketball practice and, as the clock ticked on, the distinctive happy noise of a school playground filled the Collingwood air.
At the end of the school day, principal Hugh Gully reflected on the re-start. “We had a very good turnout – about 95 per cent.”
He noted that students were clearly pleased to get back to school. “They were very happy to see their buddies. I wandered around at lunchtime and they were sitting around in circles just catching up. It was good to hear lots of laughter from the kids – and the teachers.
“I spoke to a few kids who have had a nice time during lockdown, a really special time with their families, doing a load of interesting things.”
Hugh said that while not all senior students had engaged fully with their NCEA studies during lockdown, they would be able to catch up. “They will have lots of one-on-one sessions with teachers to help them get credits they need. If they haven’t engaged, today is the time to get on with it.”
Summing up, Hugh said he was very happy with how things had gone. “It’s been a really, really good day.”
Golden Bay High School
Ninety-two percent of the school roll returned on Monday, arriving in droves. They were greeted by the senior management team before being directed to the handwashing facilities and on to their form classes. The rules under Level 2 were laid out, and teachers and students reconnected with each other and with face-to-face learning.
The senior students expressed relief about being back, as did their teachers; in fact, most students said they were happy to be back. The year 9s returned to creative mode in Resistance Materials Technology following a health-and-safety briefing from teacher Ben Knoef.
Student Hazel Molloy commented, “I enjoyed learning from home, but it is great to be back with my friends,” while Kyla Lusty said, “It feels really weird.”
These sentiments were echoed by many fellow students.
The focus on day one was on settling back into school and assessing where students were with their learning. Adjusting to the conditions set out for health-and-safety under Level 2 will continue throughout the rest of the week.
Extra staff were rostered on during breaks, as this is when social distancing is likely to prove most challenging. This is an area that will continue to be closely monitored.
Takaka Primary School
Principal Jenny Bennett said it was happy Monday at Takaka Primary. “We had a fantastic first day back with a settled start involving lots of reconnecting through play, creative activities and games. Students and families were met at their ‘name gate’ as they’ve quickly become known, and parents and caregivers were able to either say goodbye at the gate, or if there were nerves involved, walk them in.
“We were pleased with a 94 per cent attendance and thank our community for placing their trust in our school, for their patience, understanding, and care, which has been demonstrated towards school staff and has really kept us all buoyed.”
Jenny said the energy around the school was “buzzing and joyful”, particularly during break times when the shrieks of delight echoed around the school. “Teachers were involved in leaf fights and sports games; we think they were just as excited to be back.”
While things went well, Jenny recognises the ongoing need to adapt. “We are continually checking and improving our processes to reduce risk and ensure a gentle return, as we know theory and practice can be slightly different.”
Jenny said that it wasn’t only returning students that showed up on Monday. “We are delighted to have welcomed many new students – from ages 5-10 – and their families to TPS. Many enrolled into our online programmes before arriving, so it’s been fantastic to meet them in person and see how well they’ve settled in.”
Motupipi Primary School
There was a general air of excitement among children and staff at Motupipi School as children returned from their lengthy isolation on Monday morning.
Guidelines set by both Ministries of Health and Education required anyone entering the grounds to be registered for contact tracing, so most parents said their farewells outside, some a little anxious to not be escorting their children in.
“It’s harder on some of them than on the kids,” said principal Lisa Malones.
All arrivals were personally greeted by Lisa with genuine joy and enthusiasm as she ushered students through the gate. “I’m just so excited to see them all back,” she said.
The feeling was reiterated by teacher Jodie Grant.
“It feels so vibrant; the kids feel positive and happy to see each other and to be together, and I feel the same,” she said, but admitted that adjusting to all the sudden energy for some might take time.
The school is launching into its programme where it left off, but is fully prepared for the new safety approach. While enforcing social distancing with children is difficult, Lisa says they will be exhibiting safety first and common-sense rules by hand washing with soap and water “before and after everything”, and using hand sanitiser appropriately.
Central Takaka School
Things were buzzing at Central Takaka School on Monday, according to principal Steve McLean. “The students and staff were all very happy to be back and enjoyed reconnecting. Lots of online learning devices plus library and reading books were returned and then cleaned before being put back into circulation.”
Steve said staff, students and parents all followed Level 2 protocols, including using a designated drop off/pick up point, filling out contact tracing forms and using all the new handwashing and sanitising stations. “It has been a real team effort from the staff and Board of Trustees throughout the lockdown and in preparation for re-opening under Level 2.”
The major focus for the first week back is on physical and emotional wellbeing, explained Steve. “This includes only slowly easing back into the usual routines to allow time for restoring the social connections and comfort levels of student to help them adjust to life back at school. The most important message we are promoting is to be kind to each other.”
Article and photo: Jo Richards.