The head of a Market Harborough secondary school has told students, parents and staff – you have all been fantastic.
Proud Julie McBrearty, the principal of Welland Park Academy, opened her heart as her school welcomes back more pupils after the shattering three-month Covid-19 lockdown.
Julie told the Harborough Mail: “I have so much pride in the way that as a school we have risen to this immense challenge.
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“We are having to deal with an unprecedented situation – no one has ever lived through a time like this before.
“So I am so proud of how our teachers, other staff, parents and, above all, our students have tackled this extraordinary crisis.”
She said they have now got about 60 children back in class out of 1,000 youngsters.
“We started the lockdown back in March with as few as 10 vulnerable students and children of key workers attending.
“We are now getting Year 10 students back – just over 70 per cent are coming back to lessons,” said Julie.
“Our school is finally returning to being relatively normal although there’s a long way to go yet.
“Our amazing students have been hugely adaptable, flexible and resilient.
“They have been working very hard online during the long weeks of this lockdown.
“We are also blessed with the parents we have – and they are being incredibly supportive.
“They are giving us a lot of superb feedback which is helping to shape and influence how we teach their children and make progress.”
The Welland Park Road school chief said they were implementing two-metre social distance measures in classrooms, corridors, the playground and throughout the entire school.
“We are also providing sanitiser stations to help all of us wash our hands, maintain hygiene and combat the threat of coronavirus spreading.
“Safety is our first priority.
“There is so much to think about,” insisted Julie.
“Along with every other school we are trying to reconcile a number of challenges at the same time.
“The lockdown has inevitably had an impact on the mental health of some students as well as their parents.
“Politically, tackling this crisis would pose a massive job for any party and any government.
“We are trying to deal with the educational challenge, the economic challenge and the health challenge all at the same time.
“There will be learning gaps for some of our children when they do finally return.
“But we are aware of that and we are already preparing for it.”
She said they will break up as usual for the summer holidays on Friday July 10.
Asked about how many youngsters will return in September for the new academic year, Julie replied: “We have drawn up several options.
“It all depends on if the Government cuts social distancing from the current two-metre rule.
“We hope to find out more over the next few weeks so that we can firm up our plans for the autumn.”
Joining Julie to speak to the Mail were some of her students.
Year 10 pupil Hayleigh walked back in through the gates on Monday June 15 after packing up her books on Friday March 20.
“It’s been difficult at times during the lockdown but I’ve done my best to stay motivated.
“I’ve been baking, walking and playing with my cats,” said Hayleigh, of Market Harborough.
“Doing my school work could be tedious but our teachers have been very helpful.
“We have taken part in live lessons with a camera and a mic as well as Powerpoint presentations and inter-active sessions.
“But I’ve missed the little conversations here, the human contact and the socialising.
“There’s just me and my mum at home and it’s been very intense, we have argued now and again!”
The switched-on teenager has also raised £515 to help fund the school’s 2021 Prom while her mum Ruth has generated £250 baking and selling cakes.
Market Harborough pupil Jacob, 15, said: “It’s been weird being locked down.
“I like to swim six times a week but the pool’s been shut, of course.
“I’ve really missed seeing my friends and the teachers here.
“But I’ve been able to work outside at home in the garden when the weather’s been nice.
“And the teachers have mixed it up and done their best to vary lessons and keep it interesting.”
Harry, 12, opened up to us just an hour after returning to Welland Park Academy for the first time.
“I’m very excited because it’s a very different learning environment here to the desk in my bedroom!
“Our teachers have been excellent and have been very responsive, emailing us day in day out to support and guide us,” he smiled.
The big-hearted boy’s also been taking part in a VASL charity penpal project supporting elderly and lonely local people.
“I’ve been emailing a lady in Market Harborough called Annie.
“I get along with adults well and it’s been such a good thing to do,” said Harry.
“I’ve really enjoyed it and I’m sure Annie has appreciated all the contact we’ve had over the last few weeks.”
Milo, 12, has attended school almost all of the 12-week lockdown.
“It’s been very odd.
“There were only 10 of us at the start – I could have had a whole classroom all to myself,” he laughed.
“That was hard to deal with.
“You just take it for granted that all your teachers and all your mates are going to be there every day.
“But then they suddenly all disappeared.
“But dealing with this has definitely made me more mature and more independent.”
The final word must go to tireless principal Julie as she plots and strives how to gear up for the next few weeks and months of the craziest year she’ll ever face.
“Our school motto is Learning for Life.
“Life goes on here.
“We are positive and we are optimistic,” said fired-up Julie.
“Everyone here has adapted brilliantly up to now.
“I am 100 per cent sure that we will continue to step up and measure up at Welland Park Academy.”