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Parents continue to show concern and remain apprehensive as school gates opened to welcome students back to conventional classrooms this month after the pandemic lockdown and the resultant distance learning initiatives undertaken by UAE educational institutions. Physical distancing, maintenance of hygiene in public spaces and gatherings and the loss of learning are all issues plaguing the parents’ minds. However, UAE schools have been a step ahead in the process, with systems and checks in place to assuage parents and their wards that things are all right.

In this together

Jackie Greenwood, Head of Counselling and Well-being, Fairgreen International School, says, “The tag line, in this together, has never been more appropriate. None of us have found the last year easy, but together we have found comfort and support, new ideas and ways of coping. As we have transitioned back to the Fairgreen campus, we have prioritised transparent and frequent communication along with accessibility, care and kindness.

“Our focus has first and foremost been on the physical, social and emotional well-being of our children. One of our strengths has always been the personal connection and the extent to which each child is known by many adults in school. This has allowed us to operate a dual system of proactive well-being activities as well as being open and responsive to concerns. This support extends to our parent community and our teachers. A combination of video messages, online coffee mornings, support seminars and prosocial activities has meant that our community has felt reassured and ready to move forward with optimism. Our students are our biggest assets and cheerleaders; they show us every day their resilience in adapting positively to the changes that Covid has presented. No doubt this reassures our parent community that their children are still embracing school life and are coping better than any of us could have hoped.”

For Dr Paul Richards, Superintendent, American School of Dubai (ASD), it’s all about the knowledge parents and students gained from the pandemic and the extent of their ability to incorporate those learnings in their daily lives that will matter. “We truly believe that schools are among the safest places to be during and after the pandemic, though we never take our parents’ trust in ASD for granted. Some behaviours learned during the pandemic, such as staying home if one is really sick, or wearing a mask so as not to spread contagion, will endure in the post-Covid world. Though this experience has been taxing on everybody, I believe we will exit the pandemic with greater respect and compassion for each other, and a belief that contributing to the common good will advance our society.”

Some schools are even ready to take this one step further and give in to parental concerns by allowing children to continue distance learning until parents consider it fit to send them to a physical school environment

In school or away?

Dr Neil Hopkin, Executive Principal, Sunmarke School, part of Fortes Holdings, says, “Sunmarke School has created a secure and safe environment that is both safe for students and staff, as well as stimulating and as close to normal as protocols allow. This is strictly monitored by a dedicated Covid action team, with constant adjustments and enhancements made school-wide to reflect the rapidly changing nature of this virus and the legislative requirements.

“Furthermore, the school continues to offer students and their parents (where protocols allow) the option to continue learning in the physical school and also to learn entirely online. In this manner parents with differing concerns can find the manner of learning that fits their particular circumstances. We have found our families to be very appreciative of this flexibility and focus on their individual needs. Very regular information updates, reminders and guidelines have helped to inform the community about their own best practice for continued good health, as well as ensuring that we follow protocols to protect one another within the school community.”

That said, Dr Omaima Ataya, School Physician, ASD, is happy to have children coming into school, stating that The American Academy of Pediatrics reaffirms its recommendation to have children physically in school for their physical, emotional, and academic well-being. “The KHDA has similarly advocated strongly to get our students back to school in person,” says Dr Ataya, adding, “what these past few months have shown us is that we can accomplish this if we adhere strictly to our health and safety protocols. A growing body of evidence demonstrates that opening schools has not significantly increased viral transmission in our community. In fact I believe our schools are one of the safest places to be.

“Parents, students, and teachers have grown accustomed now to these health and safety measures, which have been keeping us safe and open. We all practise diligent hand hygiene, physical distancing, and mask wearing. We avoid gathering in large groups. Most importantly, we stay home when we feel sick and get tested for Covid-19 if we develop any symptoms. Now it’s time for the next big step and get vaccinated against Covid. We are grateful to be in Dubai where we have two safe and effective vaccines available. Getting vaccinated soon will eventually lead to herd immunity and put an end to this pandemic. Like Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote in the award-winning musical Hamilton, “I am not throwing away my shot!”

However, the tangibles aside, constant communication can be a shot in the arm too.

Remain transparent

Dr Jay Teston, Principal, Nibras International School, part of International Schools Partnership, says, “We are thankful to our parents for continuing to trust us to educate their children. Our community’s safety, health, and well-being continue to be a priority at Nibras International School, and our entire community has worked together to maintain this.

“I believe frequent and transparent communication in times of uncertainties, builds trust and assurance within the community. We continually shared our Covid policies, the results of all agency inspections - KHDA, DHA, Dubai Municipality, and have provided weekly reports to the NIS community, thus allowing us to grow stronger together.”