Back to School – Beer Chronicles Part 5

On Thursday 16th April Eleanor walked through the gates of Dulwich College Suzhou to commence the last 9 weeks of her primary school life. 

Her excitement was delightful. It was like starting a new year. She was up, showered, dressed and breakfasted without any prompting. How long it will last is anyone’s guess. Temperature taken – below 37.3 degrees Celsius she walked out the door. We had a photo taken complete with a new part of the uniform – a mask.  The growth spurt that Eleanor has gone through in the past 3 months also obvious. The only things fitting her being the mask, tie, lanyard and shoes. Shoes that we had bought in John Lewis in Cardiff way back in February. There was a sigh of relief that they still fitted. 

Out the senior school gate and across to the Junior School. Her paperwork collected that showed the last two weeks temperatures that she had recorded on paper and online. I had had a phone-call the day before reminding me to upload the certificate proving that she had undergone a strict period of quarantine. No one was allowed on campus without paperwork and temperature being recorded. We cannot enter the junior school campus. In fact no visitors are allowed at all onto any of the campuses.

The college were allowed to open on Tuesday 7th April. A year group at a time. At time of writing the junior school is open to just year 6 and year 5 on Friday 17th April. To date the school that Martin and I work for have still no date of return. Though on Friday all staff were on campus. All of us reunited for the first time since 17 January. No hugging. No closeness at all. We all sat in the lecture theatre one seat left empty between us. Masks on trying to work out who was who from the eyes up.

My first meeting in school was at 9am. A meeting of all boarding staff. All of us apprehensive. None of us really wanting all of boarders to return en masse. We are the front line for our students. Taking temperatures first thing in the morning and in the evening, understanding that if one person in the room is found to have a temperature above 37.3 degrees Celsius all the occupants of the room must go into isolation. 4 questions need to be asked and depending on the answers will depend on what happens next. Either a trip to the fever clinic or to the hospital designated for patients. None of us want this to occur. 

The four questions are:

1. 14 days prior to onset of fever have you been overseas or visited an epidemic city?    

2. 14 days prior to onset of fever have you been in contact with a confirmed or suspected case?

3. 14 days prior to the onset of fever, have you been in contact with anyone returning from an epidemic city or someone suffering from a breathing issue

4. 14 days prior to the onset of fever, has any member of the family (living in the same house) been exposed to any of the above? 

All boarding staff have been given 2 thermometers. A digital, point at the head gun like thermometer and a good old fashioned mercury thermometer. Having had to take Eleanor’s temperature with the mercury one while in the quarantine hotel I hope that we don’t have to use it as reading it is a nightmare! 

Our drill yesterday involved everyone. Boarding staff suddenly had staff playing the role of boarders and Martin became a day student arriving at school by bus, others were day students arriving at school at the front gate and past a thermal imaging camera. We did a run through of breakfast and lunch. Queuing up for the dining hall 1 meter apart. Having hand sanitiser then 15 seconds later going through hand washing then collecting a tray, picking up plates, paying, sitting at a lunch table on my own before returning the tray to the washing up space and leaving the dining hall. All of this while being watched by members of staff who will be responsible for monitoring the students doing this. Reminding them to watch their distance and wash their hands. 

When our boarders return, they will have study hall in their rooms, not in classrooms monitored by teaching staff, evening free time will be spent in their rooms – hopefully not socialising in anyone else’s room. The basketball courts, football pitches and gym will be out of bounds. That is tremendously sad. We have boys who every night went out to shoot hoops, our year 13 boys played football every night, some girls ran around campus. Effectively being back in boarding will be like lockdown again. There can be no groups of students congregating. 

Looking out over school from boarding, the school looks eerie. Tables on the roof terrace and outside the dining hall have one seat at them designed for single diners. I suppose it is one way of breaking up the couples! 

Eleanor loved being back at school. Sadly there are some students who won’t return this term. Goodbyes cannot be properly said, friendships will continue online but there will be no end of year celebration at finishing primary school. But I am thankful that she has the opportunity to go back to school. It won’t be the same experience, potentially no trial days at senior school, no production which she was a main part of –, but for the next 9 weeks will be a new norm. Books being put under a UV light when returned to the library; their own pencil case with all the stationary required; group work done at a metre apart, masks worn in school all the time, temperatures taken before lunch. I am thankful she will have 9 weeks of face to face schooling which is more than our friends in the UK. I am thankful Martin and I still have jobs and that we are still being paid. We have come so far since 3rd February. 11 weeks of online teaching with a 3 day break. It looks like we will push through to the 19th June with no break. But if it means that we won’t have to teach over the summer then so be it. We still have a way to go though. Back in February when Martin left boarding because the heating was being turned off we didn’t think that in the warmer months we wouldn’t have Air Conditioning. Now, as the temperature creeps up we know boarding and teaching without AC will be uncomfortable. But these are first world problems. We can keep going because that is what we have done since February.

A couple of weeks ago I did a radio interview for BBC Radio Ulster. A 5 minute piece of the interview was used 2 weeks ago. Now today (Saturday 18 April 2020), another segment is being used in Radio Ulster’s Stories in Sound and yesterday The Belfast Telegraph picked up on the piece.

This is the third time of posting this without pictures.