School and Learning in the Time of Lockdowns
SCHOOL AND COVID-19
I remember when the news of Covid-19 first hit. Everyone was quite shocked and talking about it, but nobody could have ever predicted the year that was 2020.
Everything spiralled so quickly. Before we knew it, we were locked down, with businesses closing their doors for an unforeseeable time. Schools also closed the doors to their students and had to move everything from offline to online.
Here in Australia, we were sent into two different lockdowns. It seemed we had just come out of stage 3, and we were all hopeful things would begin to start returning to some normality when stage 4 hit out of nowhere.
Everything was closed apart from necessary stores such as grocery stores, petrol stations, chemists, and bottle shops. Businesses that were ready to reopen had to keep their doors closed and look for other ways to keep themselves afloat. Masks became mandatory, curfews were set, and the schools were locked down again.
My son, Darcy, is fourteen years old and has Down syndrome. It is very difficult to explain a pandemic to him and help him understand what is going on.
He is at a higher risk than others his age, so keeping him away from people was a number one priority.
It was very strange for him to suddenly stop the busy social and active life he leads and not to be able to see his support worker, someone he has an amazing relationship with.
Over here in Australia, the Government did recognise (eventually) that it was important for people with disabilities to keep some sort of normality and routine in their lives, so support workers were allowed to begin working with their clients again. I was very nervous when this statement was made because I knew Caroline, Darcy’s support worker, would want to take him out, but I wasn’t sure where she could take him. I didn’t want Darcy at the shops among all those people, but Caroline only transported him from our place to her place and kept everything very safe for him.
In between the two lockdowns, the kids were allowed to return to school. I was in two minds about this because I knew how happy Darcy would be back with all of his friends and able to see his teachers,
I was so worried about the virus and what would happen if he did get sick. I was terrified.
The school sent us all a big document outlining all the safety measures they would be taking and assured us the kids would be safe at school. I was so worried when I sent Darcy on his first day back, but he was the happiest I had seen him in a long time because he was able to go and be active again and socialise with his peers.
I remember visiting the school not long after they had returned and speaking with them about everything they were doing. I needed some reassurance. They discussed that they had hired additional cleaners whose sole purpose was to walk around the school all day and clean all the high-touch areas. The kids were also washing their hands when entering and exiting the classroom and between each activity they were doing in the classroom. The teachers were also sanitising everything after each task was complete. I left the school that day feeling much better, knowing they did have the kids’ safety as their main priority. Just as the kids were finally settling into a good routine with school, stage 4 lockdown hit us.
Darcy was devastated that he had to learn again at home, and all he wanted to do was get on the bus and go and see his teachers and friends.
He didn’t understand what was going on, and again, it was very difficult to explain to him.
The platform our school put in place for the kids while they were learning from home was amazing. The resources were sent home each week on the bus the kids normally go to school on. This confused Darcy and made him mad when he couldn’t get on it. We watched the programmes the teachers put out every day and then did the work. The kids also got to have two video catch ups with their classmates every day, and the teachers would try to make them fun by playing games. We also had a couple of online parties to celebrate birthdays. It was wonderful what they did for our kids to keep them connected.
During the first lockdown, Darcy settled quite quickly into the remote learning routine, but I honestly think it was because it was something new and seemed exciting. He tired very quickly of me being his teacher, and I had to come up with many ideas to keep him motivated.
In the second lockdown, it took us longer to settle into a routine, and it was about three weeks before we were in a good routine with the learning. We eventually got there, and all Darcy’s schoolwork would be complete by midday.
When the restrictions eased after another whole term learning at home, and we were able to send the kids to school again, even though I knew how careful the school was being, I was still terrified again. There was always that thought in the back of my mind questioning what would happen if any of us became sick. Darcy won’t wear a mask because of the sensory issues he has with anything on his face. I tried many different ways to get him to wear one – using social stories and showing many pictures of his friends wearing masks – but with no success.
Darcy is also a boy who loves to hug and show emotions through touch. I was trying to explain why he needed to keep a safe distance from people, and sometimes it worked, but sometimes he would forget.
Darcy did enjoy doing “the elbow” instead of high fives and handshakes, but that was as far as it went. He didn’t understand why he couldn’t be physically interactive with people, and this was why I worried about him becoming sick.
I can thankfully say that Darcy’s school has been amazing in the care the staff have taken to keep our kids safe, and the worry I had has slowly started to diminish.
Every time he steps outside the door, I worry, but everyone involved with Darcy makes sure he is safe, and I am very grateful for that.
I look forward to the day when we can look back on all of this as a memory, and we can go about our lives without the worry of getting Covid-19.
I don’t know when, but it will happen.
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