Ellie returned to school last week.
While it was far from normal, I appreciate the German government’s commitment to return to a cohesive learning environment. Many of my educator friends have asked me what the reentry plan looks like here. While I warn that my observation is from a parent’s perspective and not that of a teacher inside the classroom (years of teaching and parenting have taught me that the two perspectives can be very different), I am happy to share our family’s experience.
In the German schools, they are bringing back the transitional grades first. These include students who are going into university and need to take the relevant exams (equal to our 11th and 12th graders). It also includes 4th graders who have to prepare for secondary school (they leave elementary school at the end of 4th grade). Ellie is in 4th grade now, hence her return to school.
Parents of students in these grades received instructions outlining the procedures and guidelines for students to follow upon return. In my daughter’s class, the students are divided into two groups that alternate attending school every other week. This allows for physical spacing in the classrooms; they will have 10 students in the room instead of 20. Students also have arrival and dismissal time slots assigned so that traffic in and out of the buildings is minimal.
In class, students are to wear masks (from home or provided by the school), wash their hands before going to their desk, and may only remove their mask once seated. There is no group or partner work, but each student created a presentation to give while at home, so they are able to interact in that way.
They have shortened the school day by an hour; the students arrive later and leave a little earlier than normal. The students also do not eat lunch at school as they usually do, but the instructional day was over by lunchtime before COVID-19 anyway. While this is not a drastic change for students who did not participate in ganzen Tag Schule (all day school), it is a big change for Ellie, who attended school until 4:00. Remaining at school from 1:00-4:00 is an option offered in many German schools. During these additional hours, students receive homework help, participate in projects, and are tutored as needed. This additional time immersed in a German language environment has been a crucial part of my children’s foreign language learning.
The rest of the grade levels will return in phases. 3rd grade is scheduled to return to school later in May and 2nd graders (including my son, Crawford) will go back on June 8. They will follow the same every other week schedule that 4th grade has established.
The extra procedures require a higher level of responsibility for hygiene practices, but my daughter does not seem to mind. The first afternoon she came home saying, “I didn’t make any mistakes with the new rules. I remembered all of it!” Of course, she is not a fan of her mask and says she washes her hands “100 times a day,” but she is happy to be back in her classroom. Moreover, we are thankful for her teacher and school’s dedication to her health and education.
It is important to note that returning to school is only for students who are healthy and do not have family members with compromised immune systems. We do not feel forced to send Ellie or Crawford back to school, but we are excited for them to return and feel that we are fortunate that they can be back in a school environment.