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Lessons learned from coronavirus crisis as Dingwall Academy pupils adjust to a bizarre year of change as Covid-19 pandemic continues to loom large


By Hector MacKenzie

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Ross Stewart, Kirsty Arnaud, Elsa Fearn and Ruairidh McGee in one of the school stairwells.As part of the one-way system, all stairwells are up or down only. Pupils wear masks when walking between classes.
Picture: Melvine Lynch
Ross Stewart, Kirsty Arnaud, Elsa Fearn and Ruairidh McGee in one of the school stairwells.As part of the one-way system, all stairwells are up or down only. Pupils wear masks when walking between classes. Picture: Melvine Lynch

FROM the loneliness of lockdown and the first ever cancellation of exams to the 'overwhelming' return to classrooms and continued uncertainty over the coronavirus crisis, 2020 has been an emotionally draining year for thousands of pupils across Ross-shire.

So what lessons have Dingwall Academy senior students like Ross Stewart, Kirsty Arnaud, Elsa Fearn and Ruairidh McGee been able to draw from a year that changed everything and is set to have far-reaching implications for a long time to come?

Ask them the hardest thing about lockdown and they'll mention time away from friends, the jarring break in routine and the stress of being alone trying to cope with remote learning. Elsa said: "It’s so nice having a routine again. So many of us struggled to stick to any kind of routine. School gives us that plus a sense of normality."

That said, it took some getting used to after the seemingly endless five-plus months away. Kirsty admitted: "In the first few days, it felt overwhelming after going such a long period of time being away from large groups of people and then suddenly you were surrounded by hundreds of kids." The theme was picked up by Elsa: "Going from an isolation in lockdown to this environment a thousand children can be intimidating and a shock to the system."

"People got lonely.Not everyone admits it but people did."

They have become used to new routines of washing hands on arrival, different entrances for year groups, cleaning tables and using a one-way system around the school. They're aware they can still be in classes of 30 where social distancing as widely understood now just isn't possible. Even so, the new routines are now becoming second nature.

The shock of cancelled exams and the subsequent u-turn over adjustments made to teachers' estimates also took its toll on stressed pupils.Kirsty said: "There were some people who were really sad – like it was a big anti-climax – and everyone was worried about the uncertainty of what was going to happen." Ross said: "The decision to fix that and reverse the decision was definitely the right one."

So with a "post-lockdown" school term now under their belts, what do they feel they have learned about this most unprecedented of situations?

Ross said: "I learnt how important being in school and in front of teachers is. Online learning was not for me. I definitely struggled with motivation."

It's a view widely echoed. Kirsty said: "It took me so much longer to do any task as I couldn’t discuss it immediately with classmates and teachers."

Ruairidh said: "The importance of a teacher with us in class was so clear in some subjects. When you don’t have someone in front of you taking you through things step by step, it was really hard in some subjects. Even when we used Google Meet and spoke directly to our teacher, it wasn’t the same as being in school.

For, Elsa, it brought home the importance of the social aspect of school.She said: "It was a long, long time without our friends." Ross agreed with that sentiment: "People got lonely.Not everyone admits it but people did."

Kirsty added: "Coming back to school actually brought that to light. It was a tough time and it impacted on people’s mental health.Perhaps some people are only just realising that now."

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