Mask-wearing is currently the norm for staff and students at all high schools now that the country is at red lights. Photo / Provided
Tuesday February 1 was the first day of the new school year for a number of local students, who had to deal with a new learning environment due to the recent change in the government’s anti-covid defense system.
Horowhenua College Year 9 students not only had to deal with day one jitters, they also had to learn to navigate new rules, such as wearing masks in classrooms.
Principal Grant Congdon said whānau and the students embraced the changes that needed to be made to keep everyone safe.
“The maturity with which our school family welcomed the new [about mask use] and the appropriate questions that were asked regarding health and safety issues were truly impressive,” Congdon said.
Like everyone in the country, staff at Horowhenua College discovered the crossing at red lights when the Prime Minister announced the change on Sunday January 23.
“We sat down with the leadership team on Monday. Mask requirements were 80% of our conversation – ensuring there was a clear distinction between mask use indoors and outside. outside of [college] buildings.”
Congdon said the Ministry of Education indicated the intent of how mask use should occur but, recognizing that each school is unique, left the finer details to individual management to s adapt to their needs.
Foxton Beach School opened its doors to returning students on Monday, January 31, with those in grades 4-8 required to wear masks indoors for the first time.
Principal Hamish Stuart said the transition to a new way of learning has gone much smoother than he expected.
“We’ve incorporated ‘mask breaks’ every 30 minutes for students to get some fresh air and a drink,” Stuart said.
Whenever possible, in good weather, teachers at the school will take their students outside to allow groups of students to have more mask-free time.
“We also told the students to let their teacher know, much like when they have to go to the wharepaku, if they are too hot or feeling claustrophobic. [while wearing a mask]so they can take a little break.”
Stuart is also co-leader of Horowhenua Kāhui Ako, a group of school leaders who work together towards common educational goals for 19 schools and 12 early years centers in Horowhenua.
“After the announcement, we had a virtual meeting with the ministry’s director of education for Wellington, Roy Sye, to help get some clarity on what needed to be put in place,” Stuart said.
Local principals also met to ensure consistency between schools in Horowhenua in terms of the messages conveyed to whānau and students, as well as how they would address the needs of their individual schools.
Congdon and Stuart believed that parental reluctance to wear a mask had generally been overcome with full communication from schools.
However, some families of students were requesting mask exemptions or intended to have their children work from home until masks were no longer needed.
Both principals said it was also an entirely different way for teachers to work and added another layer of complexity when it came to dynamic engagement with their students.
“Academics could be our core business,” Congdon said, “but [being aware of] the well-being of our students and teachers is equally important. [Everybody] handles change differently.”