Superheroes welcome pupils back to Durban school

When grade 7 pupils at one Durban primary school arrived for their first day back, they were given a “hero's welcome” by their principal and teachers all kitted out in super-hero costumes.

Athlone Park Primary in Amanzimtoti, south of the city, wanted to make their pupils feel comfortable returning to their classrooms amid the Covid-19 virus, so they donned costumes and made signs like, “You are brave”, “You are loved” and “You are kind”.

Principal John Vorster joined his staff at the school gate as “Superman”, complete with a cape.

Jenni Klopper, the school's spokesperson, said the children were “thrilled” by the unusual welcome.

“Parents have been apprehensive and concerned about the children coming back. I think this effort helped the children and the moms and dads to relax a bit.”

Klopper said apart from the welcome, the school has been preparing for two weeks to receive the grade 7s back on Monday.

“We have all the measures in place and want to assure our parents that we have done our best to protect everybody.

“The kids loved it. The grade 7s have been fantastic.

“We had super queen, super teacher, super mum and of course Superman. I think in this time of doom and gloom we needed a bit of light fun. We wanted the children to know that they are brave and we are here for them,” said Klopper.

Nearly all the matric pupils at Durban High school returned to school on Monday.
Nearly all the matric pupils at Durban High school returned to school on Monday.
Image: Suthentira Govender

At Durban High School, grade 12 pupil Afek Fine was both nervous and excited to step on to the school grounds on Monday morning after months of learning at home.

“It is a bit nerve-racking to be back. My parents are apprehensive but they just want me to finish and so do I. Despite the nerves I am happy to be back.”

Fine said wearing a mask for the entire school day would not be a problem for him as he was used to it.

Another matric pupil, Siphopelo Mgwaza, told TimesLIVE he was excited to return to school.

“It's been a long time since I have seen my friends. It is going to be different but I guess we will have to get used to it.”

Mgwaza said he wanted to get on with the school year and was happy with the school's measures to protect staff and pupils.

Pupils began trickling in from about 7am, where they were met by teachers and security personnel at the main entrance.

Social distancing markers were placed along the pavement leading up to the main entrance.

Hands were sanitised before temperature checks and the optional walk through a sanitising tunnel. Visitors were required to fill in a log book with all their details.

Deputy principal Simanga Ngcongo is the school's designated Covid-19 responsibility manager.

“We know there are concerns about the sanitising tunnel and whether it is safe. This is why we opted for one that has organic disinfectant. In addition, the boys are given an option of whether they want to walk through or not.

“We have been working for some time getting the school ready for our teachers and pupils.”

Ngcongo said most of the 171 grade 12 pupils were expected back on Monday.

“Not all will be back. Those pupils with chronic medical conditions will continue with online learning. They are a small number.”

He said parents were also given the option of fetching learning material from the school and teachers were available to help those pupils learning from home.

Ngcongo said all the school's 63 teachers had returned last week.

“We have four teachers with chronic ailments. We have prepared classrooms with Perspex screens for these teachers.”

The school also has an isolation area for pupils with high temperatures.

“If pupils are flagged at the entrance they will be taken to the isolation area. We have protocol in place which includes a psychologist.”

He said the department had provided masks and sanitisers to the school, apart from its own stock.

“We have a two-month supply. We are secure and ready.”

​Richard La-Colombe, the father of a grade 7 pupil, said: “As a teacher myself, I have realised that we cannot delay education any further. As long as there are proper measures in place to protect the school community I am happy for my child to return to the classroom.

“It's not just schools that have to take responsibility, we as parents too must be responsible for our children. Learning and teaching must go on,” he said.

Matric pupils at Chatsworth Secondary, south of Durban, were anxious for the resumption of the academic year under strict Covid-19 regulations.

Twenty-one matric pupils were expected back at the school, which recorded a 70% pass rate in 2019.

Jerry Govender, 19, said his main concern was catching up for the time lost.

“My main concern is the workload because it's been two months we haven't been at school.”

He said he was well prepared and didn't have any fear of catching the virus.

“I've been wearing my mask and have my own hand sanitiser - I know I won't get this virus. My mother told me to do whatever the teachers say,” he said.

A teacher at the school, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said they had not yet received all the required personal protective equipment (PPE).

“We've received most of the PPE but there is a shortage. We have only been given eight face shields and we have 11 staff. That's just one example.”

He said the school had to source its own service provider for decontamination after the department failed to do so.

A stone's throw away, at Merry Hill Primary School, pupils and parents had to report to the school.

According to the school head of department Prakash Nanjee, parents were required to fill out a declaration form, confirming their children's attendance.

Concerned parent Bradley Pillay, 38, said he was worried as parents were not allowed into the school.

“My only concern is that they are not allowing us into the school. The principal told us that only 12 pupils would be accommodated in each class, I wanted to see if that is true. I guess we just have to take their word for it.”

At Queensburgh Primary School, 12-year-old Lwazi Seme said he was expected to lead by example, having been appointed a prefect.

“My dad told me not to share things and to always have my mask on. He said I must remember that I am a prefect and that I must teach others to do the right thing.”

His father, Siyabonga, said he had emphasised social distancing.

“The most important thing we told him is to adhere to social distancing. We emphasised to him that he cannot play with kids like he used to, before lockdown. We also told him not to share things with other people and to always wash his hands before and after eating.”

The 46-year-old father said while he was confident that the school would ensure his son's safety, he could not tell what would occur inside the classrooms.

“So far, from what I have seen first hand, it gives me a great confidence because they have implemented the safety measures they spoke about, it was not only a promise. I have a great hope with the social distance measures, but I cannot predict what is going to happen in the classroom,” he said.

Pupils' support agent Mthobisi Nxumalo screens pupils at Sibusisiwe Comprehensive School in Umbumbulu.
Pupils' support agent Mthobisi Nxumalo screens pupils at Sibusisiwe Comprehensive School in Umbumbulu.
Image: Sandile Ndlovu

At Sibusisiwe Technical High School in Umlazi, Sipho Ngobese, a matric pupil, said: “I feel so awesome being back. I can see that my year is ending, even though two months has been long without class. I am nervous like everyone else about the virus but I am glad I don’t have to extend my matric year. I just feel so awesome.”

His fellow matric pupil Senzi Ndlovu, however, was feeling anxious.

“I feel a little pressure but there’s nothing I can do about being back at school. Education is the first key. I don’t feel safe at school around so many people, even though we have to wear masks, social distance and sanitise.

“I miss being able to hug my friends hello. All these months I’ve been trying to study at home but the virus and missing school has been on my mind,” Ndlovu said.

Zandisiwe Shange said while she was excited to see her friends, she was worried about the virus. 

“I’m still worried about the virus, there’s that thing at the back of my head. I’m also worried about my academics. I don’t think I will be able to get the same marks I was getting before schools closed. I don’t think that I will be able to get on with the programme. But I [would] rather be here, being at home was boring,” she said.

KwaZulu-Natal education MEC Kwazi Mshengu, who visited the school on Monday to assess school readiness, told pupils that there was no cure for Covid-19 and that they couldn't afford to close schools.

“We have to prepare to return to school. I’m sure you are looking forward to going to university next year. So let’s work together to finish the year. Teachers, without you there will be no future. We have tried our best to ensure the safety of the kids. We want to celebrate their results. The virus does not move but people move.

“We made sure that learners have masks, and to provide sanitiser. Make sure you keep distance among yourselves. This will be your daily life now. It’s a new ways of living. You must become comfortable with wearing face masks, this is the new normal,” he said.

Nolwazi Ngcobo, a parent whose seven-year-old went back to school at Addington Primary on Monday, said she was anxious about her daughter's wellbeing.

“She was excited to go back to school because it's been two months, but I'm worried about her catching the virus because now she has to go outside. It's grade 1, so I'm not too worried about the curriculum. She was learning during this period but I think she learns better inside the classroom, so I allowed her to go back,” she said.

Ngcobo said she took her daughter to the doctor for a health check before allowing her to return to school.

“I needed to know that she's 100% healthy, especially her chest area and she got her clean bill of health. She walks to school so I'm not worried, I've taught her how to use a mask and sanitiser and we practised all the precautions together at home before I could let her out. She is ready.”

Ngcobo stood outside the school gates waiting to see if her daughter passed the screening test to go in.

The school has set up two points of entry, one to sanitise pupils and another, a desk with a questionnaire and a temperature checker. She said she was satisfied with the school's safety measures.


Would you like to comment on this article?
Register (it's quick and free) or sign in now.

Speech Bubbles

Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.