The ‘Back to School’ dance

Last week my kids returned to school and nursery after eight weeks of lockdown and we all breathed a big sigh of relief! They were just as delighted as us to have something to get up for in the morning, a place to go, people to see, experiences to live. The bags were packed the night before and there was palpable excitement in the air.

Life is far from back to normal, but corona cases in Israel had reduced to such a level that the government directed that schools should re-open. In fact, as of today there has only been 268 deaths overall from the virus in Israel compared to 34,466 in the UK. Even with the UK having a population 7.5 times bigger than Israel (66.6 million as opposed to 8.8 million) the figures still show starkly different outcomes.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the different approaches being adopted by the UK and Israel. The UK only announced last week that people arriving from abroad would start to be quarantined for 14 days from the end of the month and that people should consider wearing face masks in public. These measures have both been in place for some time in Israel.

Despite the reduced risk, parents here still had to decide if they were happy to send their children back to school and for some this required weighing up complex factors.

We are lucky to not have any physical health concerns, so for us the benefit for everyone’s mental health in them going back was a hands-down winner.

Here is what the ‘new normal’ looks like for our school. Classes have been split in two and separated out into different classrooms. Each small grouping never mixes with other kids. They sit at desks 2 metres apart. Their books, pencil cases and water bottles stay on the desk and are wiped down regularly. The kids are allocated a specific toilet to use. The hours are compressed. Their temperatures are taken daily on arrival and parents are not allowed out of their cars and must wear masks. Staff and kids over 7 wear masks on the premises but not in their classrooms. They play outside at break times but are always observed to ensure they don’t get too close to each other.

The best thing about it, is that it seems to be working! Most kids have been so delighted at being back at school that they have adopted the new regime with minimal fuss. They’ve seen what eight weeks at home with their parents looks like and this is a riot in comparison. Similarly, the parents are now viewing the teachers as god-like beings and doing a special dance of joy (from our cars) every time we do a drop-off.

I share these details for people in other countries as one example of how the risks might be managed for a return to school. I have been impressed with how the school has swiftly adopted measures that feel proportionate and how the kids got used to these in a flash.   

Time will be the test on if it was too soon, but for now we will delight in this ‘new normal’. The shadow of the nine week summer holiday looms large in the not so distant future. Air travel remains the next big hurdle to be overcome and it isn’t at all clear what a ‘new normal’ will look like for this.

Closer to home, we miss our regular jaunts into the West Bank and Spring was a lockdown casualty. This weekend was sweaty and hot with temperatures soaring to 38 degrees and no beaches or swimming pools yet open. Ramadan is still underway and I have buckets of respect for everyone observing it in the heat.    

2020 has been like a tornado that has swept us away from life as we knew it. I hope for now, most countries can start to get a bit of let up and mentally recharge in what might be the eye of the storm.

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