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Maintaining hope during indefinite closures: Observations from schools re-opening in China.

30 Apr 2020 2:24 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

by Andrew Palmer, Director of Counseling, School Counselor in China and ISCA Task Force Member 


In what feels like a never ending process of emails, zoom calls, and staring at computer screens, one week seems to blend into the next during the Covid-19 school closures. This worldwide pandemic has affected everyone in some way, and as of this writing the UNESCO website states the following data: 1,575,210,054 affected learners due to school closures; 91.3% of total enrolled learners; 191 country wide closures.


Many schools around the world have already closed their doors through the remainder of the 19/20 school year. In the USA, Dr. Anthony Fauci cautiously predicted schools would re-open in the Fall. However, there is an understanding of two things 1) we cannot plan a worldwide re-opening date at this stage, 2) we all are going to have to adjust to a new normal. What will that new normal look like? Hopefully some observations from re-opening schools can provide a little context for reflection.


Working in China, where the pandemic originated, we were the first schools to close our doors. As conditions continue to improve within the country, we are now seeing schools re-opening in various provinces. While many international schools are still waiting for approval to re-open, we are seeing local Chinese schools open in places such as Chengdu, Kunming, Chongqing, Shanghai (Apr 27th) and Beijing (Apr 27th). A couple international schools have re-opened in Suzhou as of April 7th, and here are some notes, considerations, and suggestions from our experiences.



Preparing for the Return

Information Sharing

In times of uncertainty, sharing information can provide a sense of reassurance and safety. Whether a return date is confirmed or not, to calm nerves in the community it is important for the school to share as much information as possible on a regular interval. Once a return date is confirmed, everyone will be excited with the possibility of re-opening, and schools may want to consider adding a re-opening page to their website such as this example in Suzhou. The return to school must be balanced with an understanding that we are going to have to adapt to a new “normal” with different practices and policies.


A New Normal (Processes and Routines)

While requirements will be on an individual school / country basis, you might expect to experience some of the following:

  • Mandatory mask wearing

  • Health & temperature Checks throughout the day 

    • Before getting on the school bus - both in the morning and afternoon

    • At lunch

  • Protocols for if someone has a fever/symptoms

  • Handwashing & hygiene requirements / daily disinfection practices of school facilities

  • Staggered re-entry by grade levels

  • Different timing of the school day to allow for staggered lunches

  • Continued social distancing requirements in the classrooms, lunchrooms, and corridors during break-times and lunches.

  • Limited or no onsite extra-curricular activities

  • Entry and exit through one area of the building

  • Extending school year or working holidays

  • Loss of students

    • Withdrawn, transferred, or unable to return to the country to study

  • Blended learning

    • Supporting students in person and continuation of online learning for students unable to return

Actions for Counselors

School Counselors should continue general best practice in implementing a comprehensive counseling program, and may consider doing some of the following actions:

  • Gather/Interpret Data - Needs Assessments

  • Individual Student Approach - Students may have had different experiences with online learning, and fall into different categories of need:

    • Want to return to normal classes immediately

    • Need some decompression time with peers/teachers to transition back

    • Preferred online learning

    • Had little to no engagement with online learning during closure

  • Be ready to talk about grief and loss (HBR article).
    • Loss of time, things, events, and possibly people – due to the virus

  • Group & Individual Counseling

    • This may be difficult if you’re the only counsellor (K-12, etc.). Work collaboratively with school leadership, homeroom teachers, advocate for wellbeing being paramount in returning. 

  • Welcome Back Assembly
    • Advocate for time/involvement in this to discuss mental health & wellbeing, and transition.

  • Parents not allowed on campus

    • Counselors to support parent needs through online meetings & coffee sessions, and discuss topics such as:

      • Parents - taking care of your mental health

      • Helping your child dealing with separation anxiety

      • Reassuring your child that school is safe

      • Continuing the use of online learning (What we learned online may evolve our education for the future).

      • Helping their children switch back to classroom instead of online learning.

  • Community engagement/commemoration
    • Consider doing an activity that can bring the entire school together as a community (while following any social distancing protocols)

      • Competitions – cooking, photos, walks for a special purpose

      • School Mural to commemorate experience.

      • Fundraising for medical health professionals or those affected.

Future considerations

The Class of 2020

Will schools re-open in the Fall? Will I be able to get a visa? What should I do about my deposit? Should I defer for a year? Higher education institutions around the globe are still working to determine their practices, policies, and what to recommend to the class of 2020. As counselors, if you work with students in a college advising role, make sure you are staying in close communication with universities and counselors through a variety of platforms (individually, college websites, webinars, and through professional organizations such as ISCA, International ACAC, CIS, etc.). While no one has the answers to all the questions, we can work to help calm the nerves of our students/parents through an ongoing dialogue and continued conversation around the subject.


Permanent Closures?

One thing many international schools will need to consider is the lasting worldwide economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. Many questions remain unanswered, but as some companies are bringing their ex-pat workers home, how will the possible loss of students influence budgetary considerations? Will we see staff cuts, or international schools having to close their doors? Only time will tell around some of these issues, but I believe that as counselors we need to continue to be our strongest advocates for our profession. I recommend that we continue to do all we can to establish that school counselors are essential to the day to day function of our schools. 


Conclusion

While we are rightfully excited about schools beginning to re-open in China, it is important to take a measured approach to how we as counselors support our students. Things have greatly improved here, but we also understand that future closures remain a possibility. This period of online learning has required counselors and educators around the world to take a crash course on technology in and out of the classroom. Hopefully, we all continue to learn from these experiences, and will be prepared for a new hybrid learning environment whenever we are able to return to school. For the time being however, I wish you continued strength and endurance in maintaining hope during this indefinite closure.

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