Although my Headmaster’s Newsletter is traditionally published on a Friday or on the eve of a Half Term, I felt feedback following on from the statements issued by the Department of Education last week and from our Remote Learning Survey are pertinent for the start of this week.
Yesterday marked the 6th week since the start of the COVID-19 Lockdown in South Africa, and with the easing of this to Level 4 on Friday 01 May, specific planning for our pupils’ return to school has commenced with much background preparatory work and meetings with ISASA and other schools’ Heads in response to the Minister of Education, Angie Motshekga’s announced details for the State Schools’ staggered return.
The logistical demands of setting up the necessary staff training, sanitisation, PPE orders, temperature monitoring devices and social distancing protocols in many State Schools are obviously enormously challenging. In response to Minister Motshekga’s statement, ISASA is formulating its own plan for the return to school of pupils at Independent Schools. ISASA’s plan will take cognisance of independent school class sizes, facilities and their readiness to implement the basic pillars for health and safety detailed in the State’s Standard Operating Procedures Booklet. We await direction from ISASA. I am, as mentioned, in regular contact with Heads from other schools in the Midlands area and we are currently working together to put ‘our’ plan forward for the returning to school.
The following protocols are listed in Minister Motshekga’s statement:
Infrastructure and furniture
You will note that our Cowan House COVID-19 Protocols implemented prior to the end on Term 1 already met many of these requirements, and Minister Motshekga indicated the possibility of ISASA Schools operating at Alert Level 4 if they are COVID-19 compliant and able to accommodate the acceptable number of pupils.
We hope to provide greater clarity regarding return to school dates for ISASA schools as soon as possible. We can confirm that Cowan House will adhere to our half term dates next week, although it is possible the half term will run from Thursday 14 May to Sunday 17 May. More details will follow in this regard.
I wish to take this opportunity of thanking the Cowan House community (parents, pupils and staff) for the support and commitment to ‘making things work’ during these testing times. The support and affirmation received, through the recent remote learning survey, for our staff’s efforts are greatly appreciated. None of this would have been possible without your enormous commitment and positive attitude as parents. We have amended aspects of our remote learning programme in response to the survey feedback.
From an operational point of view, you may have noticed that from this week, my weekly assemblies are now on our Facebook page for you to view. They will only remain there for a few days, so please encourage your children to view these.
Our HR Department is currently in the process of finalising permits for our ground staff and our outsourced cleaning company, Spectrum, are doing the same so that we can start preparing the school for our return.
Please see below for details of our remote learning programme for this week, as well as feedback and planning as reported by Dorian Larter and our HODs:
‘Although there is nothing that could have prepared us for the scale of what we are currently experiencing, we want to thank you for the way online schooling is taking place. We also now know that our teachers, pupils and parents are more equipped, better versed and well-motivated for the online learning platform.
In truth, there has never been a better time for this modality to become a necessity. We do not just live in a digital information age, but also one in which ‘sharing’ and connectivity has become second nature. Well done to all stake holders for adjusting to learning through Microsoft Teams, in record time, as well as the many community networks established for the distribution of work booklets. What a privilege it has been to be part of this community. The ‘war stories’ of these times will be told for decades to come.
Thank you too for the response to our survey as well as the constructive manner in which communication is taking place to make this process improve; we have taken cognisance of these to make adjustments to our programme. As we move forward in the uncertainty of who will be allowed and when we return to school, we can be certain that online learning will continue.’
Consolidation and Creative Fridays
As of this week, we will be introducing a ‘Consolidation and Creative Day’. This for the time being, will be on a Friday. There will be little change for our Pre-Primary as they have been functioning in this manner for the past two weeks. This means that Junior and Senior Primary teachers will set work for a 4 day week and have Friday as a consolidation or creative day – still having work but with a difference. This will enable staff to connect with individual children who need additional assistance and allow pupils to catch up, if needed, and complete assignments set during the week. The Creative Friday will provide opportunity for Art and Music programmes as well as introduce scope for totally different tasks. I am aware that Grade 4 have already started with this.
Class Connect Times
Another change is that we are encouraging more connection time between teachers and pupils – just a brief connection as a class a few times a week. Many of the pupils and staff are missing being together as a class. It is our thinking that learning and relationships go hand-in-hand and hopefully, once a few stories and possibly a “few funnies” have been shared, this will make for a better day for all of us.
Outdoor Exercise Times
We are aware that the permissible outdoor exercise time is from 6am – 9am. Should you wish to make use of this time as a family and work your schedule around this; staff will adjust their connection time accordingly.
Many parents and pupils have indicated that they cannot work in Teams but can receive information through D6 and WhatsApp. We would like to point out that you can download Microsoft Teams onto mobile phones, and it is very user friendly and workable.
Finally, again I encourage COMMUNICATION. We still maintain that this is key to the process of learning. Pupils are encouraged to contact teachers on teams or via email and, “Ask, ask, ask.”
Craig Hoyer has set up a fun challenge with Western Province Prep School wherein both schools will take each other on in a run totalling 1554km between our two respective schools. Parents, Staff and Pupils of all ages are encouraged to participate. All you have to do is submit your distance for the day to Mr Hoyer who will be collating the number of kilometers completed by the entire Cowan House community each day. Our progress will be plotted on the route map and it will be fun to see where and when the two schools cross paths.
Craig encourages everyone to get outside, get together with your families and get moving. (This is easier now with the lockdown regulations lifted a little.) You can run as far as one kilometer a day … you can run as far as 5 kilometers (or more!) … you can run every day … you can run twice a week … but every time you run, please submit your distance for the day by clicking on the Challenge LINK distributed to pupils and parents through the class WhatsApp networks.
My Headmaster’s Assembly message for this week was shared with parents and pupils through our Facebook page on Monday morning. In this message, I acknowledged the boys and girls of Cowan House as worthy heroes of these COVID-19 times. They are missing out on so much that we have taken for granted as part of a healthy childhood, in not being able to play with friends, enjoy their sport or even just attend school. Little has been said to recognise the resilience of our children in coping with the changes brought on their lives and I wish to pay tribute to them for the way they have remained motivated and determined to cope with the demands of remote learning.
During these times of isolation, we have all done our best to ‘zoom’ in and ‘team’ up to combat the effects of our forced physical separation. Emotional support and care for our children remains key for them to reach their potential. Technology is a useful tool, but not a replacement for human connection, and in this world of constant change, it is the qualities that define us as human beings that perhaps remain a reliable constant – the ability to make sense of feelings, thoughts and behaviour. Raising young people who are empathetic, resilient and adaptable remains more important than ever.
Have a blessed week.
Worry is like a rocking chair; it gives you something to do but never gets you anywhere.
– Erma Bombeck