Vaimea pupils conquer social distancing

Vaimea Primary School students were pleased to return to the classroom on Monday after a when a five-week closure of schools across the country as a result of the coronavirus pandemic State of Emergency (S.O.E.).

Desks were rearranged and placed one meter apart on each side with teachers assigning 20 students to a room, which was a big change from the usual 40-50-plus students each classroom would normally have. 

The school also introduced conditions for the midday interval with children banned from venturing outside for play or lunch break in order to satisfy social distancing requirements.

Vaimea Acting Principal, Aukuso Ualesi, told the Samoa Observer that the teachers worked through the temporary school closure so reopening on Monday was "normal" for students.

“Today feels normal for the teachers because they didn’t stop coming to school for the past six weeks. We have been working. But it’s not that normal for the pupils,” he said. 

“This morning, we’ve been working with the teachers trying to allocate students and we’ve divided students in order to keep 20 per classroom just for the social distancing. Levels 2, 4, 6 and 8, they are entering school Monday until Wednesday and then it’s Thursday and Friday for the Levels 1, 3, 5 and 7.”

In some classrooms, there are roughly 40, 50 and even 60 children, he added. 

“We’ve broken up the Year 2 into four classes of 20 and the Year 4 into six classes of 20; Year 6 has been divided into 4 classes of 20 and Year 6, there are four classes of 20 and Year 8, there are four (classes),” according to Ualesi.

“So last night, we put the names of different lists of classes on the doors and this morning I connected the PA system to let students and parents know what exactly is happening at Vaimea this morning…it was quite a little bit different.”

The children are accustomed to arriving at the school campus and going straight to the canteen but today, they were told they are not allowed “to stick together.”

“We tried telling them to avoid sticking together and to avoid playing outside – just go straight to where the classrooms where their names are listed. That is the information I tried to announce this morning for the parents,” Ualesi said.

“So the parents came and went straight to the classroom lists and for us, the teachers, some teachers are not teaching their classes. We keep the teachers in the same group they were in but we allocate the students…we will follow the same program for Year 1, 3, 5 and 7 when they come to class on Thursday.”

More than 400 students returned to school at Vaimea on Monday and more than 400 will attend on Thursday.

d most recent count of its student body is 895, the principal said.

“Before the lockdown, I went to the Principals and Inspectors meeting held at the Ministry of Health and I [found out] there would be a lockdown or shutdown for Samoa. So I briefed the teachers about the coronavirus for awareness. I told them that we had to prepare for about a month of home study or homework for the kids,” Ualesi said.

“So we prepared their homework before the lockdown. So that Friday, the lockdown was announced and we gave out their homework. After two weeks of lockdown, then we had four weeks and I had asked the teacher to prepare for those four weeks.”

In preparing for back-to-school yesterday, he informed families of what would happen.

“They are not sitting next to each other, they are sitting one meter away from each other,” said Ualesi.

One big change is the interval or lunch break.

Teachers must now take lunch orders from the children and two students are tasked with walking to the canteen and picking up the order. Children are not allowed to leave the classroom for the interval.

“So during the interval, I don’t want them walking around and I have already told the people at the canteen what we are doing,” the principal said.

Parents have been advised that congregating more than five in a gathering is prohibited at the Vaimea campus.

 “We are happy. We have been preparing for today since the weekend and the only reason there will be cause for worry is if you have not planned. Everything is fine here, the teachers are happy too that they have fewer students in their classrooms,” Ualesi said.

Vaimea Year 4 Teacher Ms Suea Mauafea said she is happy to have the students back in school.

“I am happy the children are back in school and because social distancing is being enforced, we are teaching them about protecting themselves and staying safe even if the [coronavirus] pandemic is not here,” Mauafea said.

“They know the two meters and it’s the social distancing rule that has reduced our classroom size. Our classes aren’t this small. They know about coronavirus and they know about social distancing so when we are doing our work, we can’t all crowd into one place. Some of these students, their parents are doctors.”

Nine-year-old Lusia Kilisimasi told the observer that they are social distancing to “protect ourselves”.

The ban from playing outside and social distancing doesn’t bother Lusia, only that she feels “happy” to be back in school with her friends.

Students in Year 2, 4, 6 and 8 returned to school Monday (and have class through Wednesday). Levels, 1, 3, 5 and 7 have school on Thursday and Friday.

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