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The Deutsche Schule Durban story

| January 8, 2021 | 0 Comments

BY LORRYN TÖLLNER

What an unforgettable year 2020 has been at the Deutsche Schule Durban (DSD) in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN).

This time, however, it’s not because of the class outings our school learners and staff have enjoyed, or the groupwork projects the children have embarked upon, or even the break-time soccer games that our boys and girls long for during the first three lessons of the school day. The year will be remembered for the long second term of online schooling at home enforced by our government after the COVID-19 virus hit South Africa! It will be remembered for the masks we all had to wear, the socially-distanced circles the children had to create for break time conversation, and the complete upside-down turn we as a school were faced with on Monday 16 March 2020.

When most schools in KZN were forced to close two days early at the end of the first term, a sense of uncertainty crept into the hearts and minds of staff, educators, parents and learners alike. However, it was school holidays, so a sense of relief surpassed this feeling, but only for a week. Before we knew it, the national lockdown was announced and our teaching staff were thrown into the challenge of online teaching.

Finding new rhythms

Our German class coordinator at the time was instrumental in putting us on the Google map and pointing us in the direction of Google Classroom. Our teachers rose to the challenge and instantly made use of PowerPoint, Zoom, Google Classroom, Class Dojo1 and even the Anton Platform.2 WhatsApp class groups became the primary mode of communication, and parents became the medium of instruction! Our parent body embraced this new normal with agility and the parent-teacher team was established. This was all new, interesting, different, stressful, innovative and stretching.

Then, the novelty of the new challenge wore thin as the inperson teaching and conversing over topics was replaced with intense preparation and time-consuming days spent planning lessons then creating content – written and visual – to upload onto Google Classroom and various other platforms. However, we did not miss a beat, and although the days looked and felt different, content and concepts were taught, work completed and turned in and lessons learnt. Teachers also took advantage of the ‘out of the classroom’ opportunity afforded to them and encouraged the children to express their set tasks and assignments in various ways. The children loved the technology of Zoom and the ability to see their class mates every now and then, and mostly they loved the fact that they could do schoolwork in their pyjamas if they so desired!

Maintaining a sense of community amongst our school friends and families was another challenge we faced. Our marketing department staff members suggested that our teachers set assignments for the learners that translated well onto our social media platforms, and showcased the creativity and dedication of our learners and teachers. There was daily anticipation to see which class and what assignment would be posted next!

Reunion at last

Finally, after two and a half months, schools were given permission to open their doors again, and because we are a small school, we were fortunate enough to be able to rapidly phase in all our grades. We knew that this would mean a great deal to our school community, so our behind-the-scenes staff and health and safety team were commissioned to plan the logistics and practicalities of re-opening. This was no small task. Much paper work and many applications for special concessions to legally open our whole school were completed and submitted. Classrooms had to be re-arranged to create enough room for us to comply with the social distancing regulations, and the two largest classes had to be allocated new teaching venues. Our Grade 4 students took up residence in the hall, and the Grade 5 learners relocated to the multi-purpose room. The end of the school day was brought forward and this affected the daily routine. A new time-table was therefore drawn up and took effect effortlessly.

We were also required to publish and distribute a list of COVID-19 protocols, which forced us to ask and answer some hard questions, such as: Will masks have to be worn the whole day? Will the school day be permanently shortened? How will the children keep social-distancing protocols? How will the teachers enforce these? What will break time be like? Eventually, after a multiple page document was typed up and sent out to the parents, school opened again on 01 June for our Grade 7 learners, followed closely by our Grades 4-6 learners on 04 June. Our Grades 1-3 learners joined in-person teaching and learning again on Monday 08 June, and, finally, after a four-month online schooling season, the kindergarten (preschool) students of the DSD returned on 13 July. The excitement of being back was tangible, albeit behind masks and with sanitiser everywhere! Our DSD team displayed unity and grace as they pulled together to ensure that a safe and clean environment was created.

Grace under pressure

Our administrative staff screened temperatures daily and applied sanitiser to all hands upon arrival. Our ground and cleaning staff ensured that all areas of the school were rendered hygienic. Our teachers were socially distant but hands-on with the children all day and enjoyed break times outside on the field as they maintained protocols at all times.

Our marketing, events and development teams displayed flexibility during this time and adapted to co-ordinating events online, and embracing what we could do to unite and keep our DSD family motivated, encouraged and inspired. The blessing of this has been that our online events have gone global and have added momentum to our slogan ‘Educating for a global future’. Our two virtual quiz nights have hosted international participants representing, inter alia, the United Kingdom, Germany, Scotland, Switzerland and Dubai, and were immensely enjoyed by all participants. For our inter-house virtual cross country challenge, we extended the invitation to the parents as well as alumni and they accepted enthusiastically from locations around the world. Someone once said that it takes a crisis to force people to rethink things and unfortunately, for many families, the rule mandated by the government that children have to wear masks at all times, has forced them to continue with home-schooling whilst they hold out for protocols to be relaxed in order to return their children to the DSD.

And so the year 2020 chugs along. We continue to extend grace and respect to one another at every opportunity along this uncertain and sometimes daunting road. The DSD learners are resilient, amazing little people, who are happily inventing new socially-distant games to play on the field at break times and always willing to help. If you were allowed to pop in to visit, you would see that our school day flows as normal, our family is still a strong community and our learners continue to thrive! And that’s something of which we are immensely proud!

References:

  1. See: https://www.classdojo.com/
  2. See:https://play.google.com/store/apps/detailsid=gymapp.illusionseeds.com.gymapp&hl=en_ZA

Category: Summer 2020

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