With most schools closing for the year due to the pandemic, Beijing Kaiwen Academy in Haidian is back! After so many months of uncertainty, the Beijing Education Commission has allowed grades 6-12 to return back to schools (with other grades soon to follow). I know that every parent, teacher, and student has a vested interest in what schools will do to keep everyone safe. This blog is a look at what schools in China are doing to protect their students and teachers after the Coronavirus outbreak.
First, a little context for those who may have never read my blog before. The last time the teachers and students were at school, it was mid-January and we were preparing to leave school for our 3 1/2 week Chinese New Year vacation. Many of our teachers and students had big vacations coming up and we were all ready for a fun break after finals! I said goodbye to my kids, telling them it would only be a few weeks and to be ready to start our next unit when we came back. When we left, I had no idea I would not see my students in-person for 4 1/2 months. About a week into break, the virus hit the international news and I had family/friends/old students messaging me in droves asking if we were ok. I originally told everyone not to worry…it wasn’t a big deal…I had no idea how badly this virus would effect the rest of the world. We got word about 2 weeks before school was scheduled to start that we would be going to online school until it was safe to return to campus. Now it is June 1st and grades 6-12 are ready to go back! After carefully enforcing protocols and being approved by government agencies, we are open and couldn’t be happier!
Before students were allowed back in the school, they had to report their temperatures to their advisory teacher daily for weeks ahead of time. This was to ensure that everyone was healthy before they came to campus. Teachers had to disclose whether or not they had left the province or city and that information was used for the same purpose. With such a large school, we needed to be able to prove that our students were not at any risk. Some may think that this was a lot, but I think it was 100% necessary. From my standpoint, if this goes well, then schools in China may be able to be used as examples for how schools all over the world will be this fall. However, it does have a lot to do with timing. I want to let everyone know that the cases in Beijing are less than 10 currently, we are not in the midst of the pandemic and the city had to go roughly 30 days without new cases before the city would open the schools. Many other provinces in China have had schools open for about a month, Beijing was the last to open. Anyway, the teachers headed back to school a few days early to learn all the new protocols (in case someone is sick) and prepare for the arrival of students. Then we were ready for the kids!!
It was time to see the kiddos! Before anyone is allowed on campus, they have to go through the ‘temperature tent’ where they have a thermal camera and doctor or guard on duty. We also have to show our health kit on our phones to prove that we have not been anywhere with abnormal conditions (outside of Beijing or China). The students will have to have their temperatures taken at least twice a day to ensure that no one is sick. Every class is equipped with a digital thermometer for this purpose. Because the teachers don’t have an advisory teacher, we are required to wear a bracelet thermometer for at least 10 minutes a day. This bracelet works with an app on our phones and seems to be fairly accurate, it isn’t registering me as some weirdly cold temperature or anything. The Beijing Education Commission sent out the bracelets and gets those temperatures directly and can contact schools if they see any abnormal temperatures. Teachers and students must also wear their face masks at all times, with the exception of lunchtime. The students are also required to maintain social distance rules.
Because it was the first day back and we hadn’t seen the kids in so long, the teachers gave roses to our returning students. The excitement in their eyes and voices was very apparent luckily, because we can’t see the majority of their faces! I polled the kids when we were in class and almost all of them said they were happy to be back. Not just for friends, but to return to their normal pre-pandemic lives…mostly friends though. A few said that they had a new appreciation for school and never thought they would be so happy to wake up early. We started our day a little different, with advisory as our first class. Because it had been 4 1/2 months since they were last in class, most of them forgot their locker combinations, classroom numbers, etc. We needed to get all that and the new school rules situated before we could continue with the school day. Almost all of our students have returned, but we still have a small handful that are out of the country and will be videoed in during regular classes.
Lunch is a little different due to the new regulations. All students must wash their hands in front of an adult before they can get their food. Teachers are now scheduled to watch the kids get their lunches and must ensure they are social distancing and wearing face masks in line. There is yellow and black tape on the floor to help kids maintain the proper distance. These rules are not just for the kids either, the teachers follow them in our third-floor lunch room. Once the students have their food, they must sit with an empty seat between them and the other students. The school has taped little plastic reminders where a student can sit safely. I know what you are thinking, “That won’t work, there won’t be enough room for all of the kids!”. Technically that is true, but now we split the middle schoolers and high schools into 2 different floors. The middle schoolers use the primary cafeteria and the high schoolers continue to use the secondary cafeteria. Some of the kids want to get up and run around without a mask, but there is always a teacher to remind them of the new rules before they get in line for more food. Recess has changed a bit, too! Students can not play sports that could allow the spread of germs, so lunch sports like basketball have been cancelled for right now.
Social distancing rules has also affected our weekly secondary assembly. Before the pandemic, our middle and high schoolers met every Wednesday morning in the auditorium to hear weekly announcements and view class presentations. Changes had to have been made here as well to accommodate the new guidelines. The middle and high schoolers have been split into two different assembly times; middle school in the morning and high school in the afternoon. Students are also expected to sit with an empty seat between them and the other students. Once again, masks have to be worn at all times during the assembly and students are not permitted to touch each other. It went pretty smoothly the first week so I foresee it to be pretty effortless in the upcoming weeks to continue this schedule. In between assemblies, the auditorium is cleaned to ensure that there is not a spread of germs.
The school has also increased the amount of soap and hand sanitizer on campus quite a bit to help keep the kids clean and germ-free! Every classroom has a bottle of hand sanitizer and an automatic sanitizer dispenser so the students are able to help themselves. There is a list of instructions on proper hand-washing in the student and teacher bathrooms. The cleaning staff has been going around after almost every class period and spraying the door handles with disinfectant, as well! Each classroom has a chart outside it for the cleaning staff to be aware about when each room has been cleaned and sanitized, ensuring that no room is forgotten by accident. All of these preventative measures have made the students, teachers, and parents feel safe about returning to school again. These measures will no doubt continue for the next six weeks until summer begins.
While we have returned to school, things are not completely normal. Certain activities can not be done due to the pandemic. Students used to be able to play table tennis after school next to the classrooms, but close proximity during this activity has determined it not to be possible anymore. Students are encouraged to follow the arrows on the floor, forcing students to use all four staircases available instead of the two they are used too. This helps maintain social distancing and prevents crowding in the hallways or on the stairs. The kids are used to chasing each other around campus or playing with their hair, also actions not permitted. It has taken some getting used to, but the students would prefer to have these restrictions and be able to see their friends than stay at home during online classes.
In the end, it would seem that everyone is more than ready to be back to school! Our school year has been extended until the 15th of July (3 weeks longer than originally planned) but we are just happy to get back to a normal routine. The students already feel they have missed out on so much this year: the yearly field trip, normal vacation times, competitions that were cancelled, etc. We are really committed to bring them back together and show them that not too much has changed. A lot of unforeseen things have happened in 2020, but teachers know how to be flexible and roll with the unexpected! Schools all over the world will have to make many changes for the upcoming school year because of the Coronavirus. Many schools may not have the resources or the space to keep students safe and will need to get creative. I imagine that there will be many altered schedules, class sizes, and sports offered to help maintain safety for the kids. Some schools may even say it is impossible with these regulations and stick to online teaching. Beijing Kaiwen Academy has made many modifications to meet requirements and will stay open! I hope that kids around the world can return to school soon, too.