'We have definitely become stronger as a team': Northampton head teacher reflects on past year on coronavirus lockdown anniversary
Rainbow picture on last day of school brought everything back for Carmel
A particular photo came to mind when Carmel Dodds planned her assembly marking the anniversary of the first coronavirus lockdown today (Tuesday, March 23).
On what turned out to be the last day of school for millions of children for months, The Good Shepherd Catholic Primary School's head teacher took a picture of a rainbow above the playground.
After a year like no other, she said the shot was the perfect way for her and her pupils to reflect on a difficult but rewarding 12 months.
"We didn't think we would still be where we are but the message would be that we have learned a lot, it's been tough but we have really come together as a school too," she said.
Schools have been one of the few places that have not stopped throughout the pandemic with vulnerable children and those with key worker parents still needing to go in.
Teachers have worked flat out trying to cater for the pupils in the classroom and those stuck at home, with varying levels of access to laptops and Wi-Fi.
While parents had to become teachers overnight and make sure their children were engaging in virtual learning, which could be a challenge.
Carmel had nothing but praise for her staff and parents at the Kingsthorpe school, who rallied together to provide the best possible experience for the kids.
"What a year it has been! We have learnt so much about health and safety and Covid - bubbles are a terminology we have come to accept.
"Parents have played a key role in supporting children with home learning. This has been a tough challenge for all.
"Teams, Zoom, your mic is on, you need to mute, have all been familiar classroom terms.
"Teachers have adapted throughout to new ways of teaching; bubbles in school, bubbles out of school, teaching remotely, teaching in person and sometimes doing both at the same time."
Home learning for most students lasted until the summer holidays, which brought its own challenges, particularly feeding the most vulnerable children.
Footballer Marcus Rashford's intervention helped to get the government to provide vouchers during the holidays for those who received free school meals.
Carmel said they helped their community by delivering food hampers and vouchers as well as laptops, Wi-Fi boxes and SIM cards to make sure more kids could get online.
"We have been really lucky to have the cathedral food bank and The Swan and Helmet and Guru technology to support us alongside our governors and Our Lady Immaculate Catholic Academies Trust," she said.
September brought the return of all pupils to classrooms, leading to bubbles for different classes and year groups as well as staggered starts, breaks and finishes.
Inevitably more Covid-19 outbreaks were seen in schools before the second lockdown in November shut them down again, followed by a few weeks back in December until Christmas.
Some schools went back for a day after the festive break before being closed again for the third lockdown, but more children were in classes as the key worker list had grown.
Carmel said they started using Microsoft Teams to provide virtual lessons in September, which came to the fore during the November and 2021 lockdowns.
"We found the human interaction was really missing before so Teams was really useful and held us together," she said.
From March 3, all pupils have been back in schools once again, which Carmel said has had a really positive impact on The Good Shepherd.
"It's so lovely, I'm relishing having them all back like when our Year 6 come to my door to show me what they have been learning about or when I visit the different classrooms," she said.
"It's wonderful and the noise is back - the first day back there was much more noise and we were glad to hear it again as it was too quiet before.
"We have definitely become stronger as a team and are extremely grateful to have the support of such wonderful families and the great communities we serve."