Finally, my son enjoyed his first full year in school...

DEBORAH HICKEY’s son was in junior infants when Covid hit. Now aged eight, he has just completed his first full year in school. Here she reflects on how Covid impacted his school experience
Finally, my son enjoyed his first full year in school...

Deborah Hickey's son Finn, aged eight, who just  finished his first full year in school.

AS a third year under the shadow of Covid-19 draws to a close for primary school students, my son, now at the age of eight, has just completed his first full year in school.

When Finn joined Glasheen Boys National School in 2019, the world was a very different place. No one could have known back then that those excited little junior infants standing proudly in their new uniforms, clutching carefully chosen school bags, would never get to complete their first year in big school.

They took their first steps into the big wide world little knowing that soon their world would become smaller than they had ever known. 

On March 12th, 2020, schools closed, lockdown began and home was the only place to feel safe. What would follow, throughout the course of various lockdowns and Covid restrictions, would highlight the wonderful work that teaching staff do and just how important the school structure and community is to our children and to their families.

At the worst of times, during level-5 restrictions, school doors may have been shut but lines of communication always remained open. In those unsettling days, parents were regularly contacted, updated and reassured. Even though pupils and parents were confined to home we still felt part of the school community. As the grapple with homeschooling began for parents, I think it’s fair to say that we all gained a new respect for the work that teachers do.

What really became apparent though, during those times of isolation, is how much is gained by children from the school experience outside of the academic curriculum.

The pandemic gave rise to sorrow, loneliness and fear for many of us and children were no different. As virtual meetings for students and teachers became a regular feature, it was clear that the mental health and well being of the boys was a top priority for the school. On these occasions Finn was so happy to see the faces of his classmates while his teacher and her assistant led the boys in chat, games and sessions would always end with music and a dance.

With level-5 restrictions, school closures, uncertainty and anxiety at an all time high, teaching staff recognised what the children needed most of all now was to have fun.

When schools were allowed to reopen in September, 2020, the work that had gone into making the school environment safe was evident. Each morning the school principal, Micheal Daly, and his staff would stand at the door, greeting each boy and dispensing hand sanitizer. The children adapted quickly to new regulations and the happiness of seeing the boys return to their classrooms gave rise to cautious optimism.

With a Covid-19 vaccination still on the horizon, teaching staff stood firmly on the front line allowing our children to enjoy some normality in their lives once again.

While we as adults struggled with living life in the ‘new normal’ of Covid restrictions, at least we were in full knowledge of the reasons why we were so restricted. Weddings were postponed, funerals went unattended, we maintained distance from each other to keep each other safe. We awaited information and instructions from the government and NPHET as to how we could proceed safely through the pandemic. These concepts were far more difficult for younger children to understand however as parents strived to shield them from the daily news and evening Covid death statistics. In these times school was a haven for our children.

When Halloween approached and public health advice recommended that trick-or-treating could not be safely enjoyed that year, it was school that ensured that the children still had the fun of dressing up in their costumes for a day.

As Christmas approached without the ability to visit Santa, the school stepped in once again, bringing festive magic to the boys. Christmas cheer and delight came in the form of a team of mischievous elves who showed up in Glasheen BNS, ‘elf quarantining for the required period of time and, of course, armed with hand sanitizer. In that first strange and uncertain Christmas of Covid, the excitement my son had every morning going into school to see what those elves had been up to during the night was an infectious joy.

As the vaccination roll out allows us now to largely return to our previous way of living, the emotional wellbeing of the pupils of Glasheen BNS remains constant. Mr Daly and his staff continue to provide a welcome at the door each morning and this year, as in previous years, the school received an Amber Flag Award for the promotion of positive mental health. Boys are encouraged from a very young age to speak openly about their emotions. Initiatives in the school such as Wellbeing Week, Buddy Walks and Inside Out Day all encourage positive conversations around the importance of mental health awareness and emotional wellbeing.

So, as Finn completes his first first full year at big school, I am so grateful for the positive presence his school has been in his life for the last three years.

I am confident that the lessons he learns will not only benefit his journey throughout his school days, but far into his future.

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