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Headmaster Mr Grant Lander
Photo by Mark Hamilton

Headmaster's Pen

Grant Lander —

The new normal for schooling - what might it look like?

On Tuesday, we took our first step towards “normal” schooling with a shift to Alert Level 3 and the return to the St Paul’s campus of a small number of our junior day students. Four Year 9 and 10 students have attended the campus over the past four days and have received their DLD lessons on-site. We are fully expecting this number to grow over the next few weeks as more and more parents return to the normal conditions of their employment. If, as a St Paul’s parent, you wish to take up this opportunity, we just require advance notice in the form of an email, and your son should report to the Chapel of Christ the King at 8.00am on the day he will be starting his attendance at school. I can assure you that every effort is being made to ensure the safety of the students involved and that acceptable social distancing requirements are adhered to.

With the government’s announcement that a decision on a shift to Alert Level 2 will be made on May 11, we are undertaking intensive planning to ensure we are ready to make the transition to face-to-face teaching and learning, as soon as possible after a decision is made. 

At Alert Level 2 the disease will be contained but the risk of community transmission will still remain. A range of restrictive measures will still probably apply within schools; including physical distancing of one metre outside of the home, restrictions on the size of gatherings indoors to a maximum of 100 people, limitations on activities in physical education classes and the range of sporting activities available, particularly those that involve balls and contact between people etc. It is highly likely that for the balance of term two, sporting activity will be restricted to intra-school and there will be no inter-school fixtures.

As a school, we cannot shift from DLD unless we are able to facilitate the safe return of our boarders. It is not possible for us to offer both distance and face-to-face learning at the same time. To this end, we have been undertaking intensive planning to see how we would accommodate the distribution of food and the sleeping arrangements for those living away from home under a change in Alert Level. 

We believe many of the Ministry of Education guidance requirements that currently apply under Level 3 will almost certainly apply at the lower level. These include in the area of food safety for example; serving food in a different way (ie no self service), keeping crockery, glassware and cutlery covered until needed (ie individual distribution by catering staff at the serve area) and limiting the number of students in each of the separate sections of dining room to just 100 students in each room, practising social distancing of one metre with no person able to sit directly beside anyone else while eating. 

From a practical perspective, these guidelines will have a huge impact on the delivery of food in the dining room. With the Hamilton kitchen normally preparing and distributing 850 meals, over the period of 45 minutes, lunchtimes would have to be staggered. The provision of drinking water for our students, we believe will be best served by the use of reusable drinking containers. We will restrict the access to drinking fountains and allow students to bring their water bottles into both classes and the dining room, removing the risks associated with glasses. All students will need to return to school with a reusable water container at Alert Level 2. 

In addition, while waiting for entry into the dining room, students would have to be physically spaced out in the lines for breakfast, lunch and dinner, while waiting to be served their meals. While for our Tihoi campus, our Year 10 boys normally sit together at tables in their house groupings and serve themselves lunch, we would need to put additional procedures in place for their self-catering of both breakfast and dinners in their houses. Precautions for prevention of Covid-19 are both labour and time intensive.

The safe provision of meals is but one aspect of communal life in a residential community. We would need to maximise the space between boarders in their bedrooms, common rooms, and when they are undertaking study and leisure activities. Fortunately, we have some experience in the past in managing such processes in undertaking the expansion and upgrading of Clark, Williams and Sargood Houses. 

On the Hamilton campus, the social distancing requirements may make it necessary for us to utilise the Collegians' Pavilion and new Hockey/Football Pavilion as accommodation areas for the Year 10 students in the remaining weeks of this term, (ie who are looking to be part of Intake 2 down at Tihoi). At Tihoi itself, under Alert Level 3, students are not allowed to be accommodated in bunk beds and so we may have to open up and utilise the ninth student house and the Brick House to manage sleeping times under a lower Alert Level.

The precautions we are exploring in the earlier paragraphs do not take into account the measures that would need to be implemented in the day school. In moving to the lower Alert Levels we believe the government will increase the size of the pods in class groupings from the current ten, probably to a level closer to 20. We are fortunate at St Paul’s we have an average class size in the junior school of 20 students and 15 at Years 11, 12 and 13. This will not be the case in the state and integrated sector and will probably be quite challenging in that environment to provide the social distancing of one metre between seated students. 

As a number of our staff are immune compromised, or have within their bubbles people who are particularly vulnerable to the virus, we are looking at requiring all students returning to have reusable face masks, which they will need to use in specific classes and in large groupings such as House meetings. Currently, a core of staff and family members are sewing these reusable face masks, with the aim of us being able to provide two for each of our students and staff. These will be distributed upon return to school. Our immediate aim is to produce 1700 face masks in the next two weeks, but we are also interested in seeing if we can exceed this number and supply our local partnership primary schools in our Over-the-Fence Ministry programme.

In summary, the “new normal” will present significant logistical challenges for schools around the country. It is important to reiterate that we are well underway in our planning for whatever guidelines the Ministry of Education issue for school operation under Alert Level 2. We are planning for a potential return to school sometime between 13 May and 18 May, once Cabinet has made its decision. 

It may be that to enable a smooth transition, the return of students is staggered, with priority given to Tihoi Intake One and our senior students, with junior students following a few days later. 

As a school, we will provide further information, directly after the Prime Minister’s announcement on May 11.

With kind regards

Grant Lander