Leona O'Neill: The pandemic actually brought pupils, parents and teachers together this year

School has finally let out for the summer after a crazy year which tested the resolve of parents, teachers and pupils alike. As Leona explains, facing up to the challenges of Covid often brought all parties together even when they were being kept apart...

Parents have had to juggle home schooling with their own jobs during Covid

THE school summer holidays are here, after the most surreal of years. And I think everyone is welcoming them with open arms – students, teachers, parents, staff alike – after what we have all been through.

It's been the hardest of years for all kinds of reasons. For students, they have had to adjust to online learning, they have had to motivate themselves, continue on with their learning journey despite what was happening in the world outside their windows.

They have had to separate from their friends and family and make their worlds significantly smaller. They have had to sacrifice a lot for the sake of the older generations. They have had to navigate stop and start schooling, and a lot of them – my own kids included – have had to self-isolate several times after their classmates got sick with Covid.

After a surreal end to my youngest son's primary school education, where he and his classmates missed the most important of final traditions and the chance to say goodbye, he entered a new school as a first year last September. Numerous lockdowns, online learning and self-isolation meant that, despite valiant efforts by teachers, he wasn't able to bond properly with his classmates and embed properly in the school. Next year will hopefully remedy that.

Parents have had to juggle home schooling with their own jobs, exhausted before the day has even begun, with the effort of getting their kids out of bed to sit at their computer to learn.

They have had to navigate mind-boggling maths, delve back into the classics for English, learn about space so they can help with the science homework and find patience where they thought they had none left to keep everyone calm and sane. And, since school kicked back into gear, live on tenterhooks waiting for the "I'm sorry you must self isolate" phonecall that will shut normal life down again.

Teachers have had to embrace online teaching, juggle their own children and the children in their care, invite their classes into their homes through their computer screens and battle to keep motivation high and education on track. They checked up on those falling behind and tried to keep everyone going.

They did a stellar job during the lockdown and continued to be fabulous as students returned to class, helping reassure anxious children and handling outbreaks as they arose. They built school communities back up and back together again after so much time apart.

For many students, teachers made this year bearable. They were champions. They deserve our praise for showing up, for giving more of themselves than even they thought they had, for keeping going and never giving up.

And all of the above were handling teaching and learning and homeschooling while dealing with their own pressures too. Some of us got sick, some of us cared for those who got sick. But we all powered through as best we could.

It's been a year where everyone has been instructed to stay apart, but in many ways the pandemic and the challenges that everyone has faced has brought us all closer together.

We have everything working in our favour this time around. Last summer, we had no vaccines, we were uncertain of where we were, we were staring into an awful winter and an abysmal new year period that saw record infections, deaths and a miserable four month lockdown before vaccines arrived.

Everyone in the school family needs and deserves a rest at this stage. We can only hope that, when September rolls around and the school bell tolls again, we are in a much stronger position. That normality will have returned and we can put this horrible Covid era firmly behind us and look forward to brighter days.

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