After long absence, students return to campus
Middle and high schools in Shanghai were bustling again on Monday as some 150,000 graduating students returned after almost 100 days of closure due to winter vocation and the coronavirus outbreak.
At the Chunshen Campus of Xinsong Middle School in Minhang District, the first group of students arrived at around 6:30am and waited in line for the opening of the gate, while keeping about 1 meter from each other. When the gate opened about 10 minutes later, they walked through an infrared temperature scanner one by one while more students came after them.
With temperatures under 37.3 Celsius degrees, they headed toward their classrooms directly and entered after washing hands and having their temperatures measured again by teachers with portable thermometers.
"My daughter is excited about the return. She prepared all the books, masks, disinfection wipes and other things needed yesterday and got up early this morning," said a mother who served as a volunteer to guide students via a designated route into the campus, holding a sign to remind them of ways to protect themselves against the infection.
She said the school informed parents and students in advance about the procedures for reopening and measures for ensuring safety on campus, and a drill had been held with faculty and parents, so students got in smoothly on Monday morning.
At 7:20am, the school gate closed as all 330 some senior students on the campus had entered.
The school's health teacher, surnamed Ma, also left a tent for temporary observation near the gate for her office.
"There are two tents set up here for rechecking the health conditions of students if their temperatures are higher than 37.3 degrees," she said. "But parents and students have made good preparations and they were not used this morning."
According to Ding Shuyan, vice principal of Xinsong Middle School, all students need to check their temperatures at home before leaving for school and those with fever would be asked to stay at home.
"Nobody asked for leave today," she said.
Ding said the first four days, with Friday this week being Labor Day holiday, would be focused on promoting anti-virus awareness and a review of previous studies.
"The students had been studying online at home and we will help them adapt to campus learning gradually," said Ding.
In the classrooms, students sat apart from each other, wearing masks at all times. Some students helped teachers collect homework and the teachers kept reminding them to wash their hands afterward.
Yin Ying, a senior student at the school, said she was happy to see her classmates and teachers again.
"It's a pity that we cannot intimately chat with each other after such a long time of separation, but being able to sit in the classroom and have classes together makes me feel good," she said.
"When learning online at home, I'm not so sure about the effects," she added. "I will work hard with my classmates in the following two months, making preparation for the graduation exam."
The national flag raising ceremony was held online with students in their classrooms, instead of on the playground.
Zhang Yi, principal of the school, told students to be brave and self-disciplined in the face of great challenges, such as the pandemic and exams.
"It's praiseworthy if you can keep firm, maintain your normal rhythm in learning and strive for your dreams," she said.
She also told the story of Zhong Ming, the first doctor in Shanghai who rushed to Wuhan after the pandemic outbreak and asked students to be compassionate.
At 6:20am on Monday, Gu Jingyi, a senior student at the No. 1 High School Affiliated to East China Normal University in Hongkou District, was the first to arrive.
She got up at 5:45am to take a bus to school as she couldn’t wait to see her classmates after the extra-long winter holiday of more than three months due to the coronavirus outbreak.
At the entrance, teachers checked her health QR code and two forms with information about her health and temperature before she was allowed to enter.
Students were told to keep a distance from each other when waiting in line to pass an infrared sensing device which can show students' temperatures on a screen. Teachers were standing by in case of an abnormal reading.
“There have been some changes to my classmates' appearance. Some of them grew a bit plump with longer hair or different hairstyles," said Gu. "Although we hadn't seen each other for a long period, we were still in close contact with the online courses. But it's still exciting to meet the teachers and classmates in real life."
With 71 days left before gaokao, the national college entrance exam which has been postponed for a month because of outbreak, Gu said that compared with online classes she felt classroom ones create a better academic atmosphere because students can communicate with each other or easily consult the teacher. "It gives me more motivation for learning. Learning at home requires more self-discipline."
Some students had taken advantage of the longer winter break to better themselves.
"Besides taking online classes, I spared some time to read classics, do exercises at home and help with housework," said Zhang Haiyue. "This period gave me more time to think deeply about myself and my future as well as strengthening love and relationships with family members."
Her friend Qin Hongyu said: ”At the beginning of studying at home, my pace of study slowed down a bit. But after I got used to it, I hit the ground running in early March and kept pace with the learning progress. To let us adapt to the online classes more quickly, our school also provided us some psychological support.”
However, a number of students were eager to get back to school as they found it difficult to study at home.
"I missed the school life. I felt that I couldn't do time management well at home and my efficiency was kind of low," said Zhu Kaiyuan.
In class, students no longer have a deskmate and their individual desks are a set distance from each other.
Hand sanitizer is provided outside each classroom for students and yellow garbage bins are available to dispose of masks.
When students went to the canteen for lunch, they found translucent plastic screens on the tables to prevent face-to-face interaction. Each student had their own specific seat with their name on it.
Sinks with automatic taps are outside the canteen for students to wash hands before eating.
The school has eight senior year classes with more than 200 students. All had returned to school on Monday apart from one who was ill and another stuck in Sichuan Province.
Younger students will return next month as the school reopens to juniors on May 6 and to freshmen on May 18.
Lu Panliang, the school principal, said it had designed its own plan for online education and reopening with guidance from the city's education commission.
"We did two satisfaction surveys on online classes among students. Some 90 percent said they were satisfied with our classes in the first survey and the proportion went up in the second," Lu said.
For the remaining two months at school, Lu said teachers and career advisers will customize different study plans for each student.
The faculty held a drill for the reopening on April 21 and another for sterilization on April 23 with property management staff and dorm supervisors taking part.
Since the school had spare dorms for foreign exchange students, now it has enough rooms for each senior boarder to live alone.
The school buildings are sterilized at least twice a day by the school’s cleaners with a thorough sterilization provided by professionals at night.
At the middle school some 330 meters away, six classes of 102 ninth graders who had submitted their temperatures online in advance had their temperatures checked when they got to school.
Since students have lunch in their classroom, two large containers have been placed outside for storing meal boxes and collecting empty ones.
A simulation exercise about having lunch was held on Monday morning for students to learn what was required. They were asked to clear their desks before lunch and disinfect the surface.
Vice Principal Wang Sui said the school was prepared for emergencies. For example, if a student showed symptoms of coronavirus during class, the teacher will report it to the person responsible for disease prevention, who will wear protective clothing to pick up the student. The student will be taken to a separate room for further assessment and further treatment will be arranged if necessary.