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The Belgian lockdown started way back in March and aside from an all-too-brief interlude in school, five months later, we finally made it back together. From our smallest to our tallest, to our students, staff, families and friends, it is great to be back!

Much has been written about the emotional impact of lockdown on children over the past months. Yes, the experience has been challenging, tough at times and completely different to the lives we were accustomed to,  but now that we are back in school, I see happy, balanced young people. From my office in the heart of school, I have an ever-present barometer on school life, overlooking as I do the central courtyard on one side and C Level breakout space on the other. The joy at being back together is tangible, the students are tumbling around in the playground, laughter and chatter rings through the corridors at lesson changeover time, classrooms buzz with learning and there is a happy hum of discussion and debate over lunch. There is so much to catch up on, our young people have literally bounced back into school, no sign of trauma. Even the mask-wearing, though irritating at times, is beautifully respected by the vast majority for the greater good.

The planning for our return has been quite an operation! At various points in the planning stages, I have wished that I had a medical or military background! Thanks to our amazing team at St John’s though, as well as some very welcome input from some expert parents and the parent body at large, our protocols have been written, rolled out and revised – no doubt, a process that will continue over the coming months. It is pleasing to see how well the systems and adjustments we have put in place to create as safe an environment as possible for our students and staff have have been embraced and have already become an accepted part of our modus operandi. The one-way system has turned each journey through school into a life-size puzzle with students vying to find the most efficient and fastest routes to their next lesson!

It has also been really interesting to see that there may be some elements that we may continue to utilise post-Covid – our digital Back to School Nights have been so well received. A simple formula with staff introducing themselves, brief explanations of key aspects and then a Q&A session. Particularly for parents who may normally have struggled to attend, the ability to beam in from the car or kitchen was a godsend! Having lamented for two years that the Back to School Nights just don’t allow enough time for families to mingle with the teachers, staff and each other, this could provide the solution – a super-efficient on-line Back to School night followed on a different evening by a sociable gathering in school, glass in hand. Who did coin that phrase that every cloud has a silver lining?

This is a different year for us as a family with our eldest off to university in the UK next weekend. Having hoped that I might get over to see him off, the imposition of a red zone across County Durham now means that it will just be George and his dad making the journey north. Aside from this big change to our family life, this year is no different to those that have gone before; every year, we start with high hopes on our ability to pre-prepare a packed lunch for school. Grace has started in style with pesto pasta, some fancy salads and even home-made sushi on a couple of occasions. My skills have only extended to a variety of sandwiches, but occasionally I benefit from Grace’s culinary enthusiasm and tendency to over-estimate her quantities. The sushi was amazing and there is even talk of a sushi mat being on her Christmas list! Whether we will still be bringing our lunch in from home come December, remains to be seen – and I am particularly partial to the freshly made soup in the St John’s kitchens…

Come what may, I hope that we have many weeks in school this year and continue to revel in learning, playing and flourishing together.

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