Small class sizes a Covid advantage


COPING Katie McGarrigle, Principal of Drummin NS is pictured with one of her pupils, Adrian Garrivan. Pic: Michael McLaughlin

Anton McNulty

There can be many advantages and disadvantages to rural schools with low pupil numbers, but when it comes to thwarting the spread of Covid, small class sizes hold the trump card.
Drummin NS outside Westport provides a perfect illustration. With just eight pupils, the school is Covid free, and unlike many of the larger schools, there have been few problems with  air quality in the classrooms.
“To be honest we are in a lucky enough situation that we only have eight in the classroom. We are going by the carbon dioxide monitor, and that is always green for us,” Drummin NS principal Katie McGarrigle told The Mayo News.

Unlike many schools around the country, Drummin is in the enviable position of being able to keep many of its windows closed without affecting the air quality.
“We don’t need to have all the windows open all the time, we might have one or two open but we are not completely frozen out of it. But that is completely down to the numbers in the classroom.
“I know from speaking to some other teachers in my old school, the monitor is constantly on red for them and they have all the windows open. But that is down to the fact their classrooms are full. We are lucky in that sense.
“Generally speaking we are managing but it is not particularly comfortable at times. We have the heating on quite a lot and obviously a lot of it goes out the window, but we are lucky we don’t have to have all the windows constantly open.
“It is not the worst situation, but I would feel it is colder than normal. The kids are always told to put on their jackets if they feel a chill or cold, but they don’t. They are telling me constantly they are fine. I feel the cold alright … the kids are possibly a bit hardier, maybe it’s me who’s a bit soft,” she laughed.

Hepa hopes
As part of the morning schedule, Katie opens up the three windows in the classroom 45 minutes before the children arrive, but since the Christmas break they have installed a Hepa air filter into the room.
While she keeps at least one window open, Katie hopes that the Hepa filter will mean they can eventually close them without affecting the air quality.
“If we feel it is getting a bit chilly we close the windows for a while, not all of them, there is always at least one open, but we still manage to stay on green. If it is down to the filter I cannot say, but we are experimenting and seeing how long we can keep one window open before [its air-quality indicator] starts turning to yellow. We have to balance keeping the kids and ourselves comfortable and keeping us safe as well,” she explained.
Katie commented that the school had to do their own research into what Hepa filter to buy, and they were fortunate it arrived just as the school was reopening.
“Some of the companies we contacted told us the wait time was February, so that would not have been ideal. We were lucky that it landed on the day we came back.
“There is no noise out of them and you wouldn’t even notice them in there. We have the space for them so it is not too inconvenient for us.”
The school also has a Special Education room, and Katie explained that the school hopes to install a second Hepa filter into it in order to continue to keep the children and the three staff safe.
“We have a spacious room with plenty of space and each child has his or own desk. Touch wood, we haven’t been affected by Covid and have managed to keep it at bay. We are in a pretty safe bubble out here, and long may it last.”