Shanghai's youngest students return to school

Yang Meiping
Kindergarteners as well as first-, second- and third-graders across the city returned to their classrooms on Tuesday for the first time since mid-January.
Yang Meiping
Shot by Tang Dafei. Edited by Zhong Youyang. Subtitles by Emma and Andy Boreham.
Shanghai's youngest students return to school
Dong Jun / SHINE

The first student arrives at the Chuncheng campus of Minhang Experimental Primary School at 7:15am, although the school advises them to arrive at around 8am.

Shanghai's youngest students return to school
Dong Jun / SHINE

The youngest group of students in the city — the kindergarteners and first- to third-graders — returned to their campuses on Tuesday for the first time after last semester ended in mid-January.

They are the last batch of students to resume normal schooling, which had been interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The older students returned in three batches between April 27 and May 18.

At the Chuncheng campus of Minhang Experimental Primary School, about 1,140 first-, second- and third-graders came back to join about 700 fourth- and fifth-graders, who returned on May 18.

Zhang Jun, principal of the campus, told Shanghai Daily that the school has taken strict prevention measures, which proved effective in the past two weeks with elder students.

The school has set up a temperature-screening machine at the gate. Students are also asked to check their temperature before leaving home and write it down on a card to show teachers at the gate. Those with high temperatures are not allowed to enter the campus and are advised to seek medical treatment.

Shanghai's youngest students return to school
Dong Jun / SHINE

Parents and grandparents drop off children in front of the school.

Shanghai's youngest students return to school
Dong Jun / SHINE

Protective gear is used by some students.

In front of each classroom, a hand sanitizer sprayer has been installed for students to wash their hands before entering. Their teachers will check their temperatures at least twice a day and ask them whether they feel OK before each class. The classrooms are also disinfected twice daily — one at noon and the other after school.

“Several students were found feeling uncomfortable in the past two weeks, but they were all free of the virus and are well now,” said Zhang.

Shanghai's youngest students return to school
Dong Jun / SHINE

Students pass a temperature-screening machine.

Shanghai's youngest students return to school
Dong Jun / SHINE

Though education authorities say students can choose to either return to campus or continue studying at home with online classes, most students showed up in the classrooms on Tuesday.

“We’ve done a thorough investigation about the health conditions and whereabouts of our students in advance,” Zhang said. “Ten students have not finished 14-day quarantine after returning from key areas affected by the pandemic and another three decided to continue home studies due to health conditions, such as suffering from fractures to their feet or arms.”

Shanghai's youngest students return to school
Dong Jun / SHINE

A teacher checks a student's temperature in the classroom.

Shanghai's youngest students return to school
Dong Jun / SHINE

Lu Fan, a mother of a first-grader, said: “Finally, it’s our children’s turn to go back to school. It feels so good. It means everything is on track back to normal. My son has been looking forward to seeing his classmates and teachers.”

Lu said the school had showed students and parents videos about prevention measures taken on campus and shared a list for preventive items they should prepare for their return.

A mother surnamed Zhu, whose daughter is a third-grader, said the return was natural for her child after more than three months of absence.

“At the beginning of the pandemic, it was troublesome to take online classes at home as both children and parents were not familiar with the teaching platforms. Gradually, I found that my daughter developed self-discipline and did well in time management after spending such a long time taking online classes while we have to work and cannot monitor her all the time,” she said. “But the atmosphere for learning is better at school. After all, they are still children. They need supervision and guidance. And some classes, such as the PE classes, cannot be taught well online.”

Zhu said her daughter was so excited that she got up shortly after 5am on Tuesday though the school advised them to arrive at around 7:50am.

Parents are also happy that from this week, students can take off their masks when having classes.

“The weather is getting warm and wearing masks all day long is not pleasant and healthy,” said a mother surnamed Lin. “The new rule is considerate.”

Shanghai's youngest students return to school
Dong Jun / SHINE

The classrooms are filled with students again.

Shanghai's youngest students return to school
Dong Jun / SHINE

Principal Zhang said with the return of younger students, changes in some prevention measures in the school will be made, such as serving lunch in classrooms.

“When there were only fourth- and fifth-graders, we could separate each class into two classrooms for lunch to distance them,” she said. “But now, all the classrooms are taken, so we can only increase the distance between each desk when students are having lunch.”

School faculty will also take turns to disinfect classrooms at noon.

“Previously, we could take students to the extra classrooms when theirs were being disinfected,” she said. “Now, we need to take other measures to prevent gathering while keeping safety. Half of the classes will have a rest outside when their classroom are disinfected. After they return to the classrooms, the other half will come out to have theirs sterilized.”

Zhang said the school plans to install another temperature-screening machine as soon as possible based on the situation on Tuesday to enable students to enter the campus more quickly and reduce crowding in front of the gate.

Shanghai's youngest students return to school
Dong Jun / SHINE

Students are taking a PE class.

Shanghai's youngest students return to school
Dong Jun / SHINE

PE classes have been specially designed to help student gradually develop their bodies.

“They have been lacking exercises for a long time and many have grown fatter, so we have arranged some training and games to help them rebuild their physique step by step,” said Qian Chen, chief of the PE team at the campus.

As they returned on the day after Children’s Day, the school also distributed gifts to the youngsters.

Lu Mingyue, a first-grader, said: “I’m so happy to be back to see my friends and teachers again.”

Li Xiaohan, Lu’s classmate, said: “I find it interesting that there are marks on the ground to remind us of keeping distance and that everybody is wearing a mask. I said hello to a classmate at the school gate in the morning and he didn’t recognize me because I wore a mask! But still it’s so good to be back.”

Shanghai's youngest students return to school
Dong Jun / SHINE

Gifts for children

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