‘I don’t like not getting to see the little ones’

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FESTIVE CHEER Kids in the Middle Room (Second and Third Class) in Holy Trinity NS in Westport.

The children in Holy Trinity NS in Westport tell us how they’re adapting to Covid-19

Edwin McGreal

When you hear the children in Holy Trinity National School in Westport tell you how Covid has changed their school lives, you’re reminded of what children all over this county and country have had to endure since March 2020.
First there was the gauntlet of home schooling, then pods and bubbles. Now kids from Third Class and up have been asked to wear masks and the debate over vaccination of the 5-12 age cohort continues.
All the while, teachers, parents and children have been getting on with the everyday reality of school – learning and having fun whilst doing it.
In Holy Trinity, communal events have had to practically cease. There’s no whole school assembly every morning. The kids have to take breaks at different times, which means children in the Senior Room (Fourth to Sixth classes) never get to mix, mingle and chat with the smaller children.
This week there would be plans for a school nativity play with parents coming in for a lovely school community event. The nativity will take place but there will be no crowd present; instead it will be recorded and sent to the parents.
Different seasonal events like spring fair, harvest soup and many more whole school events have went by the wayside.
Last year’s Sixth Class had a farewell assembly but, like the nativity, it was recorded and sent out to parents rather than having them in as was traditionally the case.
Principal Orla Brickenden brings us around the school to talk to the different classes.
There’s certainly more warmth coming from the teachers and the children than from walls of the old building itself.
Upstairs, the Senior Room children have a more innate understanding of the world around them and what they’ve missed out on.
There’s a lament in what they say but no self-pity. Indeed, there’s a resilience in kids by their very nature and like children all over, the kids of Holy Trinity have had to call on that in spades this past year.
“I don’t like not getting to see the little ones. We don’t get to know them. We would pair up with the little ones and they would read with us,” said Molly Cullingworth.
“Usually after the nativity play, we would have lots of treats, chocolate and tea and cake,” said Alannah Scott.
Harriet Conway singles out missing the assembly every morning in the school hall.
“Pre Covid we had a whole school assembly in the hall every morning,” explains Orla Brickenden. “We feel it is really important that everyone’s voice is heard, from the youngest to the oldest. We all miss that.”
With most children wearing masks, Sammy Stevens says they’re ‘okay but can be sore behind the ears’.
A more pressing concern for some children is the temperature.
The stairwell we climbed to get to the class is like an Arctic tundra. The class itself seems warm but Glenn O’Toole is nearest the door and feels the draft coming in. Sammy Wood has her jacket with her and often has to put it on. Other kids are wearing hats and fleeces to stay warm.
The windows must stay open while the radiators try to counterbalance the cold air. Carbon monitors track the air levels – if they are too high, the children have to go outside for a break.

Zoom doom
The kids are happy to be in school though. They recall the homeschooling days from March to June 2020 with little fondness.
“It was hard to focus on the Zoom calls, there was no one there telling you to concentrate,” said Ben Kinghon.
Euan Dever did find one positive though.
“You could stay in your pyjamas all day! I didn’t like not seeing my friends though,” he added.  
Down in the Middle Room (Second and Third Class), the kids are preparing to go out for break. They will be in the yard with the Junior Room and Patrick Scott is not overly keen on the split break times.
“I find break time boring as you cannot play with the older kids,” he says.
In the Junior Room, the kids there are like sponges. They talk about vaccines and hand sanitiser with the same ease as they might talk about what they’re asking for Santa. To them, this is normal.
“The kids have adapted unbelievably,” said Orla Brickenden. “They know they are secure here. Some kids will be anxious about Covid because they’re seeing it all the time on the news but they need to know that when they are coming in here, they will be looked after.”