Kayla Trotter (11), Piper Balloch (11), Danica Balloch (9) and Greer Balloch (8) returned to school on Monday morning. Photo: Kate Russell.

Back to school in Level 2

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The last time the Balloch sisters were at school was eight weeks ago. The weather was warmer and Nelsonians were preparing to enter a lockdown never seen before in New Zealand.

So, it’s safe to say that Piper, Danica and Greer were excited about heading back to Victory Primary and Nelson Intermediate Schools on Monday morning – although the winter uniforms had to be dug out.

The Covid-19 school shutdown was longer than the Summer holidays, and, in that time, online learning became the new norm for students.

“It was hard to get out of bed this morning,” said 11-year-old Piper. “But I’m looking forward to seeing my friends and my teacher again.”

Although school is back in action this week, things will be working a bit differently than normal in Level 2.

“It’s tempting to think that it’ll be a return to normal, but it won’t be,” says principal of Wakefield School, Peter Verstappen.

Peter, who is also the Nelson Principals’ Association president, says schools are going to have to be a lot more vigilant around health and hygiene.

“We need to be able to ensure families that they can send their children back to school safely. So, we are going to have to make sure our systems are well in place for contact tracing should it become necessary, for managing hygiene and health.”

He says remote learning had significantly strengthened his school’s relationship with children’s families, but teachers would not be able to go straight back into their usual routine.

“Although families have been truly heroic in maintaining learning over this period of time, we do notice that kids have fallen behind in progress and achievement,” he said.

“We don’t think it’s huge, it’s something that they will pick up again when they get back, but it will be like starting the year again.”

The majority on Nelson College for Girls students are back at school this week, bar a few that have not returned for medical reasons.

Principal Cathy Ewing said that the first day back started with a health and safety briefing for students.

“We’re looking for all of those clues as to how everybody is feeling and then reconnecting with learning gradually as we go.”

She says staff feel confident that they have put in place every possible step to ensure everyone is safe.

“But, I think there’s naturally some degree of anxiety for all of us, having been in our bubbles and only really recently beginning to actually be with lots more people.”

–With RNZ