How Cork pupils feel about the return to school

As schools prepare to re-open, we asked secondary pupils from across Cork to reflect on the past few months and share their thoughts on the year ahead
How Cork pupils feel about the return to school
Niamh Cremin, St Angela's, Cork City shares how she is feeling about the return to secondary school.

Mia Barrett, who turns 17 this week, lives in Whitechurch and goes to school in Carraig na bhFear.

As a Leaving Cert student, returning to school during an ongoing pandemic is daunting, to say the least. I have several notable concerns about it.

Luckily, my school (Coláiste an Chroí Naofa) adapted well to our unfortunate circumstances as we continued much of our classwork with online assignments and had online video classes scheduled like our usual timetable.

Although online school was operating well, our home environments could not mimic the organisational structure of physically attending a school.

Mia Barrett, Leaving Cert student, Coláiste an Chroí Naofa
Mia Barrett, Leaving Cert student, Coláiste an Chroí Naofa

As students, I believe our mental health was negatively impacted. The structure and social life that school provides for us vanished suddenly. From tempting distractions, poor internet and technology facilities, and our home life seemingly merging with our school life... online learning was not very effective in comparison to our usual schooling.

The government has frequently mentioned employing more staff in the education sector to help with social distancing but has it considered the effect switching teachers or having multiple teachers has on a student’s learning, especially a Leaving Cert student?

Potentially, messing with our current class-based curriculum could bring about adverse results in tests. Other inconveniences include possible staggered lunch breaks, wearing masks and having to speak loudly to ensure the message is heard, and the unclear sanitation system. I understand we are doing what is necessary to adapt to the current situation, but I cannot dismiss them as being easy or pleasurable adaptions.

The main concern that I have surrounds the Leaving Cert Examinations. I’ve many questions concerning this. Will the course work be amended to compensate for lost time or are we going to be exposed to fast pace crammed learning? How will practical and project work be completed?

The ultimatum: Will the state exams be going ahead as planned or will we be taking continuous assessments?

As I prepare to attend my final year of secondary school, I think about the future. With predicted grades being used for the class of 2020, I wonder what this year’s CAO points cut-off will look like.

Also, because of Covid-19, both national and international students may defer until next year, which increases competition for places in third-level education. I worry about being admitted to university as a result.

Truthfully, I am excited to return to some sort of normality, but I am dreading the action-packed stressful year of study that awaits me.

Niamh Cremin, St Angela's, Cork City
Niamh Cremin, St Angela's, Cork City

Niamh Cremin, St Angela’s, Cork city

One year ago, if we could have told our past selves that a global pandemic would cause the world to shut down completely, we wouldn’t have believed it! Nobody could’ve predicted how much we’d all be affected by Covid-19.

On March 12, when our former Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced the ‘temporary’ closure of schools to tackle the outbreak, my class let out a scream of utter joy, we were thrilled to have gained a week or two off school. However, as the weeks dragged on, strangely I wished I could be back at school.

Like most people, I found online learning quite a strange experience. As I was in transition year I seemed to be getting nearly more school work than I would have in school as we constantly had so much going on during the school day. To juggle school work, assignments and tests, I tried to make a timetable each day filtering in school work, exercise, etc. I missed my hectic weekly routine and longed for some bit of normality to return. Although it has been tough, I think we’ve all come a long way… to say we lived through a global pandemic and lockdown is an accomplishment we will share with our grandchildren for many years to come!

These few months have given me the opportunity to stop and think about what I want to do for the future and how I can achieve that. It has forced us all to reflect on all we have and all the little things we take for granted and should be grateful for. Not being able to be with my grandparents through the pandemic was really difficult and I think we’ll all appreciate a hand shake or a hug so much more now!

I am looking forward to going back to school and seeing all my friends again, however I do think it’ll be strange (I might’ve even forgotten to write, being five months out of school!). I am anxious about what changes lie ahead and how different going back to school this year will be compared to other years. Wearing a mask or visor for a full school day will be tough and I really don’t think that’s realistic.

Social distancing at most schools will be near to impossible, so I wonder how things will work — will only half the year group be in at any one time? Who knows. I hope things won’t change too much, but whatever happens, I’ll just be thankful that we’ve gotten some sort of normality back again!

Ríain O'Flynn, Carrigaline Community School
Ríain O'Flynn, Carrigaline Community School

Ríain O’Flynn, 3rd Year, Carrigaline Community School

I enjoyed lockdown and home-schooling. We got plenty of work and support from our teachers.

I use a laptop in school but this was the first time we could really use and test things like Google classroom and Edmodo.

I’m a fairly well motivated student and being at home meant I could produce good quality work. There were three us online at home every day and that played on stress levels at times. Many assignments, notifications and ‘pings’ WERE coming in, sometimes in the middle of the night, so we really needed the summer break.

I’m now going into 3rd year and not too sure what will happen with Junior Cycle. Some Classroom Based Assessments (CBA’s) have been cancelled but I don’t know what exactly we will or will not have to do in the months ahead.

Uncertainty plays havoc with my head and, while we all find this hard at the moment, I don’t need the added pressure of a state exam which may or may not happen. I’d much prefer teachers to assess everything over the year. It would make sense in the situation and keep us motivated.

I am looking forward to returning to school to meet friends and to getting a routine going again. I live in the countryside and we were avoiding socialising in town. I did keep in touch with Tidy Towns and also did a few gardening projects at home.

I’ve only met up with two friends since lockdown. I am worried about the large numbers when we return to school. I am glad the Department has said that we are to wear masks and I will be wearing mine.

Social distancing and school don’t go well together. There will be some who won’t cooperate or think it is a joke and that worries me. At least in a shop you can walk out if you think there are too many people but in school, that won’t be an option. I also think some students might use the pandemic as an excuse not to come to school. We all need to act responsibly and deal with the situation as best we can.

I think schools should focus on learning from the glitches we had with technology during lockdown, so that we can be ready for the months ahead.

Leah Horgan is 17 years old and is going into 6 th year in Ursuline Secondary School in Blackrock.
Leah Horgan is 17 years old and is going into 6 th year in Ursuline Secondary School in Blackrock.

Leah Horgan is 17 years old and is going into 6th year in Ursuline Secondary School in Blackrock. She has been a member of Mahon UBU Youth Project since she was 10.

Covid-19 has changed many things. I hope everything goes back to reality soon so we can get back to what we love doing the most.

Since we finished school in March, time has been going by really fast. One minute we were in March, and in a blink of an eye, we were in August already. A lot of people want to go back to school so we can see our friends again and get back to normal. But unfortunately for others, they have lost their jobs for good.

All people wanted to do was go on holidays and put all the stress aside for a few days, but even that got cancelled over Covid-19.

Some people might have family and friends on the other side of the country that they want to see but can’t since they cannot travel and have to stay two metres apart.

Everyone is hoping they come up with a vaccine to get rid of the virus so we can go back living our normal lives before all of this started.

I have been very stressed about the virus because all shops, restaurants and businesses are after closing down and people are after losing their jobs for good because they cannot keep their stores open.

Now, since the shops and businesses re-opened, it’s very nerve wrecking going in shops since you have to wear a mask and keep two metres apart from each other. Only certain amount of people are allowed in a shop at once and it’s actually scary when you think about everything that happened during the lockdown. Also hearing about all the deaths and the new cases is frightening.

Even though I am looking forward to going back to school, I have a few concerns about what will happen when we go back.

I’m worried that we won’t be able to socially distance. I’m afraid of catching the virus, and worried about other people getting it. On the other hand, I’m also concerned about missing part of 6th year.

Emma Cooper is 17 years old. She is going into 6 th year in Ursuline Secondary School in Blackrock.
Emma Cooper is 17 years old. She is going into 6 th year in Ursuline Secondary School in Blackrock.

Emma Cooper is 17 years old. She is going into 6th year in Ursuline Secondary School in Blackrock. She has been a member of Mahon UBU Youth Project since she was 10.

What has life been like for me? Well, I don’t even know where to start. The last few months have been surreal, something that I can’t wrap my head around. It all feels like a movie or a never-ending dream. There have been a lot of bad times, for all of us, and also some good moments. Confusion, boredom and anger are only a few of many emotions I’ve experienced. Plenty of days I didn’t want to leave my bed, days where I would rather be anywhere else and days where I would just desperately miss my grandparents and friends.

At least for now things have improved and hopefully they will stay that way. In the beginning I would record every new detail, every new case. But after a while I stopped paying attention, not because I didn’t care but because I didn’t want to know. Each new death or new case made everything worse and I simply didn’t want to believe it.

But, for me, there was always the stress of school and the not knowing of what will happen. We still aren’t sure what will happen.

Honestly, I am terrified to return to school, Covid cases are rising, going into sixth year and catching up on what feels like endless amounts of work are only a few of many more worries. But I am even more afraid to not return to school. I’m afraid to miss out on valuable school time, I am afraid to not see my school friends and teachers for another few months.

This will be my last year in school and I hope to make the best out of it. Returning to school and being in a school environment around the people we know will give us a sense of normality. I honestly have no idea what to expect whenever we return to school. I just know we live in a different world now and things will never be the same.

Marcus Bryan, incoming TY student, Bishopstown CS

We as a nation have been in lockdown now for in excess of five months, and as restrictions ease, as a teenager going into TY, I am afraid. Due to the all-punishing virus and resulting restrictions I am afraid that I will miss out on many valuable experiences that those in the years above me or in the years to come will have under their belt before going into the ‘Deep, Dark World’. As the age of 17 fast approaches, I feel this won’t happen for us if we are not allowed to mingle in groups or travel.

Even though I followed the rules, I can sympathise with the sociable persons and be collectively angry along with them when the older generations who loudly berate us in every aspect of our lives complain about ‘kids these days’ on Facebook forums.

I feel considerable rage when I hear some know-it-all oldie on the radio complain about children and teenagers meeting up despite the restrictions. It’s like watching the other kids go on a school trip as you are cooped up.

Lockdown has had many effects on me, I will start with the positive: fitness. Deadlines on schoolwork were longer so I have been able to consult the weights set in my bedroom more, and partake in online fitness challenges. Even though I (shamefully) have scrolled more kilometers online than those I have run, I have done a six-mile run and a few forest walks.

The psychological effect on me have been... gruelling. I have realised how similar my old daily routine is to the ultra-restricted quarantine, and it has launched me into multiple depressive episodes.

As my Facetime page lies open with no call requests or messages, I have realised just how lonely and friendless I am without school, and it burns me like a petrol fire in my stomach whenever I think about it.

Aine O’Mahony, incoming TY student at Bishopstown Community School

I’m excited to return to school as I miss seeing other people and like having a bit more structure during my day. During lockdown, I didn’t have much of a routine and I like having things I have to do every day.

Having more free time during the day though. I was able to do more exercise than I usually would have.

I’m scared that the return to school won’t be handled properly and that it will just make everything worse. While I think I prefer going to school, doing schoolwork from home wasn’t too difficult and it was nice not to have to wake up too early. I don’t think I would mind too much if we couldn’t go back to school yet.

I just hope that they are prepared for people to return to school and aren’t just reopening schools for the sake of reopening them. I don’t think that is a very good idea, and could end up hurting people more than helping them.

I hope that TY won’t be affected too much by Covid-19, I don’t think we’ll be doing an exchange with a school in Germany this year, and we probably won’t get to do our annual fashion show as that would bring too many people into a small space. We will probably get to do more activities outside though, which could be fun.

I’m mostly happy to return to school, but I do think some people might not take the restrictions and guidelines seriously. I think that some people will go back to the way they acted in school before lockdown and that that could end up getting people sick and having the schools close again.

Leticia Pissara Bishopstown Community School
Leticia Pissara Bishopstown Community School

Leticia Pissara, incoming 5th year at Bishopstown Community School as a TY student

I was quite disappointed during quarantine since I missed out on my school tour and on many other events we had planned. However, I do still believe that TY students were the least affected regarding our studies. Since we were mostly revising, focusing on activities and projects, we didn’t have a huge setback.

Personally, I had many plans this summer since it was meant to be a summer with no preoccupations, I wanted to enjoy everything as much as I could as I know that 5th year is when things get serious. With Covid, I didn’t have the chance to enjoy the summer half as much as I wanted to, all my expectations (which were plenty) were destroyed.

Returning to school is something I wouldn’t say I’m looking forward to, but I think it will help me be more active and less bored.

I am worried about the return of schools because I don’t want the Coronavirus cases rising just now, as life is going back to normal. Even though I would rather go to school and have classes, if the cases start rising I would prefer to stay at home and maybe struggle a little with online classes than risk getting and spreading Coronavirus to others.

Brefni Burke, Regina Mundi.
Brefni Burke, Regina Mundi.

Brefni Burke, attends Regina Mundi, going into 5th year

I was lucky to be in fourth year when schools closed as a result of Covid-19, as it must have been very stressful to be out of school during fifth or sixth year. A few of my TY activities had to be cancelled but luckily we got a lot done before lockdown and I really enjoyed TY while it lasted. When schools first closed, it felt like a bit of a novelty, but we were soon hit by the reality that we were going to be off for much longer than two weeks. Although I eventually got used to it, I disliked online school. I found it harder to motivate myself to do the work and hated looking at a screen all day. Even though I wasn’t a fan of doing my schoolwork online, the teachers did a great job of adapting to teaching online, and always did their best to motivate us and keep things fun and interesting for us.

I quite liked not having summer exams. Instead, we received a mark based on the work we had been sending in since lockdown started. In my opinion, this is a more accurate representation of a student’s abilities. It was a relief when restrictions were eased slightly and I have had a great summer despite Covid-19. I am looking forward to going back to actual school after so long. It will be nice to see everyone again and get back to a proper routine. I am excited to get back to my other activities too, such as music and sport. I hope things will go back to normal as soon as possible and that a vaccination will be made available soon. While I’m looking forward to going back to school, I’m worried things will be different. I hope there will still be the same atmosphere around the school. I’m not sure how social distancing will work because of classroom sizes and when the hallways get crowded between classes.

Wearing a mask all day will be uncomfortable but it’s definitely a good precaution to take. I’m afraid that people will get too relaxed and we might have to go into another lockdown.

Overall, despite my concerns, I am looking forward to going back to school to get back into a routine and to see all my friends, and I hope that things will start going back to normal soon!

Rian O Luasa from Bishopstown Community School
Rian O Luasa from Bishopstown Community School

Rian O Luasa, incoming TY, Bishopstown Community School

Schools closed in mid-March and I recall joy in the classroom when An Taoiseach made his speech from Washington D.C. I was glad to be getting four weeks off school, not knowing or expecting it would turn into seven and then the rest of the schoolyear, while the state exams were also called off.

The week after was a quiet one as most of the teacher— most of mine at least — went about figuring out this new way of teaching, giving homework and working with students.

I enjoyed online learning at first. Soon enough every teacher was emailing assignments, it felt like I was getting more homework than I would in school and I thought “maybe being in school is better”.

Hearing the outlook notification became a traumatic experience. Shortly after, the amount of classes per day piled up. Now it was definitely worse.

The Teams app is very good at making classes feel normal in one way... lots of questions were being asked and everyone can talk to each other.

I am concerned that TY will be very different from every other TY experience. I fear activities will be few and far between until the end of 2020 if not longer.

As well as the circumstances around work experience and if anyone will be willing to employ school students, I keep hoping that my TY experience is somewhat typical.

I look forward to seeing people who I’m friendly with when school returns. On the other (sanitized) hand I really do not want to wear a mask for the duration of the schoolday. I’m also worried about moving from class to class as some hallways are always packed. It’s difficult to walk through and you end up brushing up against a lot of people.

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