Principal of St Philomena's NS Tullamaore, busy measuring the school yard with Bernadette Kerry, treasurer of the Board of Management
St Philomena's girls national school, in Tullamore is a hive of activity with builders, school principal and the board of management, all busy as bees preparing for the return of students at the end of this month.
Hand sanitiser stations, social distancing signs, trundle wheels, and new protocols are the order of the day at the 177 pupil school.
Principal Bridget Clear and Board of Management Treasurer Bernadette Kerry, have been occupied measuring out spaces in the school yard to help keep children safe while outside.
Bridget is overseeing the operations which involves transforming old cloak rooms into learning support rooms to cater for small numbers of children. An ASD (Autism spectrum disorder) classroom is another addition to the school. Furthermore the school is welcoming a new teacher this year.
''The workers will finish on the 28th and we will reopen on the 31 st'' says Bridget. ''We are trying to use up every bit of space and reconfiguring classrooms.''
In order to keep the children safe, each classroom will become its own unit and will be called ''bubbles'' she explains. Within each bubble the children will be in pods or groups of 4.
''Our plan is that the bubble will not be burst by anyone else coming into that class, there will be no other children coming in to send messages or anything like that. So they will remain in that bubble throughout the day. When they go out to the yard they will stay in their bubble and the yard will be segregated.
''Our children are so good, once things are explained to them and they are told 'this is the area, you go into that,' they will just do it. They just naturally follow the safety procedures we will put in place. I have great faith in the girls here they have just been so good all along,'' beams Bridget.
''There is a bit of a worry that the school won't reopen, but the Government seem to be prioritising schools. I think that's why they didn't open the pubs they are really trying to focus on getting the schools reopened,'' she believes.
''We will have all of our precautions in place, and hopefully they won't extend the lock down and we will get the students back. Everyone is anxious at this stage to get back into education. The children have been out for so long they need to get back.''
The school closed on March 12, but Bridget has been in contact with many of the parents over the summer as the school lunches continued during the summer months. ''We did it every two weeks. So the parents would collect two lunch packs. During March they were collecting them every week. It was very beneficial for the families that availed of them.''
Is she concerned the covid virus could enter the school? ''There will always be a little bit of a worry but we are putting a lot of things in place to be ready for it. The school will be deep cleaned before the pupils come back. We are really working on our cleaning schedules at the minute. There will be cleaning during the day and after school and the teachers will have their own sprays to clean in the classroom as well. Our board of management have been very good in putting everything in place for that, so we are going to follow all the policies and hopefully we will be okay.''
Bernadette Kerry, is Treasurer of the board of management, ''I think it was important as a Board that we took the responsibility to ensure that the students and the staff are safe.
We followed the recommendations by the HSE and the Department of Education, they gave guidelines for us to develop. As a group we developed hand hygiene guidelines, respiratory etiquette, what to do if a visitor approaches the school, what to do for vendors, cleaning policies and procedures. We always had some policies in place but because of covid we had to go a step further.
We had to put procedures in place so that we would know what is being cleaned, how it is being cleaned and how often it is being cleaned. The main purpose of that is if there is an outbreak at least we have systems in place to show we have been cleaning,'' said Bernadette.
In the event of a pupil or a teacher feeling unwell in school, we will follow very strictly the HSE guidelines. The student is brought to an isolation room and their family or guardian is contacted. The student will remain in that isolation room until the parent or guardian comes to collect them, after they have left that isolation room, the room will have to be decontaminated as we won't know if they were covid positive or covid negative. So we won't be taking any chances. We will have two separate rooms in the event that there is more than one child. We will be encouraging parents before the child comes to school to ensure the child isn't showing any symptoms. Be it a cough, temperature, a runny nose, anything that's a little bit suspicious we will be encouraging them to keep their children home.
If a teacher is showing any symptoms they won't be coming to school and the principal will be arranging to have a substitute teacher brought in. Nobody is coming into the building if they have any symptoms that's the message, for the parents. But the parents have been very good,'' concluded Bernadette.