`Returning to school amidst a pandemic´, by Emma Barnes
I held a small lunch-time group yesterday. The students who came were navigating some big feelings about returning to school amidst a pandemic. They raised concerns around being ‘behind’ during their remote learning and wondering how they would ‘catch up’. We wondered together what ‘behind’ meant. We concluded that although we may feel different, we are all in the same boat, and facing the same way. We are all advancing in some way.
The MYP encourages students to become creative, critical and reflective learners. And we know that authentic learning happens when it is anchored in the real world, and there is nothing more “real world” than this. The challenges the pandemic has raised have enabled us all to increase our global understanding.
When I left China in August this year the country was coming alive again. Trains, highways, and buses were humming anew and people ventured out more. Yet many businesses had not reopened, many people were still working from home, many restaurants were open only for takeout, and the local economy was still a shadow of its former self. Maybe 70 percent of people ventured outdoors, the others choosing to remain at home. It was not unusual for me to speak to students who had not been out of their apartments for twelve week periods. We were all subject to masked guards at the entrances of all buildings, taking temperatures and offering hand sanitizer. Our phones constantly pinged as we received covid related text messages from the government. I had mixed feelings about these messages, which provided helpful information, but were also unnerving.
In contrast, here at ISH, students are fondly recounting family bike rides and the appreciation of a slower and simpler life during lockdown. One student shared how they now felt closer to their sibling, had developed more empathy, and enjoyed the family connection. Another felt more able to organize and entertain themselves. One student spoke of discovering a nearby stream that they like to visit when seeking calm. Others spoke of appreciating family meals and developing a talent for baking.
“Everything feels like a new beginning”
“But it’s not.”
“It's like life is returning in dribs and drabs”
We concluded we have a post-lockdown life that looks like the life we used to lead, but fails the test upon closer inspection.
As a counsellor I am interested in the constant low level angst students are feeling and in particular the impact of social-distancing policies on everyday routines, mental health, and family life. I am also noticing that students are grieving for the loss of their pre-corona life and that living in the shadow of another wave is scary. Every cough or sniff is viewed with suspicion. For some, focusing on schooling is tough.
Mental wellness is essential for returning to our lives and rebuilding society for the future, so we need to take steps to stay mentally healthy during the pandemic. I asked the students in the room to share any simple things that they believe can relieve upset and build resilience during this complex time:
● Embrace the structure of school (even if it is annoying). Knowing in advance how the day is run is good;
● Don’t read fake news - check your sources: Do make time to watch movies!
● Hang out with pets - they don't feel the same stress and you get some good vibes;
● Be kind to everyone; you never know what is going on for them.
And I would add, remember, be kind to yourself and don't try to cram too many things into your day. Give yourself time to do things at a steady pace. If you don’t manage everything, forgive yourself and move on.
I thanked the students who had indeed altered the pace of their day by taking time to connect with each other, and shared their stories with me and each other.
We concluded our lunchtime session by resanitising our hands, adjusting masks and returning to our bubbles. I left the students with the thought that, instead of “behind” as a result on the pandemic, a first thought, maybe we have actually advanced!
Thank-you to the students, who shared their story with me today and gave permissions for me to use them in my writing.
Emma Barnes is our new Grade 5-8 Counsellor. Originally from the UK, she is delighted to be joining us from China. There she had worked as a Counsellor at an International School in Suzhou for 7 years. She has worked in a variety of therapeutic settings over the years, but schools are definitely her favourite.
She enjoys working with young people at transitional stages in their lives, such as moving to a different country, changing family dynamics or young people facing the challenges of leaving and changing schools, as they rapidly-change through their childhood and adolescence years. She works collaboratively in advocating for community well-being and enabling young people to reach their potential.
As well as a professional passion for transition, Emma has first hand experience; she’s a solo career mum of three sons with diverse learning needs. She raised them over 3 continents, and would describe them as third culture kids.
You can contact her via email or phone. Students can also use the QR code to make an appointment.