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School in the Era of COVID-19
Written by Rayoung (Madeline) Lee | Published. 2020.06.30 11:05 | Count : 1091

After three months of virtual learning, students are finally going back to school after multiple delays in reopening. The Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education recently announced that middle and elementary students will return to school in the following weeks, with high school seniors on May 20. Seniors are the first to return as they have to prepare for the Korean university entrance exam, which is held in early December. South Korea’s academic year starts in March, which means students attending Korean schools never went to school after winter break (as the country experienced a surge in confirmed cases in January). International schools such as Seoul Foreign School reopened for juniors on May 20 as seniors are graduating and finals are scheduled in the first week of June.

[The high school principal welcoming students on the first day back to school.
Photo credit: Seoul Foreign School]

Like most other schools in Korea, students at SFS will have to get used to several changes in the school as schools have released strict guidelines to minimize the risk of infections. Before coming to school, students must take their temperature at home and hand in a parent-signed entry slip. If their temperature is above 37.5°C, they cannot board a school bus or enter the school. Upon arrival, body temperature is checked again at the entrance of the high school. Also, to minimize contact, all bus riders enter the high school through the first floor, while non-bus riders enter from the first basement floor. At school, wearing a mask is mandatory, and all students must keep a distance of at least one meter from one another. This also of course means that there is no physical contact, such as high fives or fist bumps. For adults, social distancing may come more naturally, whereas for students, it takes more discipline, as middle and high schoolers are at an age where bonding with friends can be more important than anything else. Social distancing makes interactions awkward, and students feel emotionally as well as physically distant from one another. During lunch, students can only sit in marked places in the cafeteria. Depending on the first letter of one’s last name, we have different lunchtimes: last names starting with a letter from A through K eat lunch from 12:00 - 12:30, and those starting from L through Z eat from 12:30 - 1:00. Classroom seating also changed dramatically, from being formatted in groups of four for group work to single rows where all students sit alone. Also, to keep non-students from being in the building, the school has provided us with lanyards and card cases so that students can easily be identified by their ID cards. From thermal cameras to hand sanitizers, the atmosphere of the school has definitely changed, as one confirmed student is all it takes for the entire school to close down again. 

[Students social distancing during study hall. Photo credit: Seoul Foreign School]

Social distancing takes a collective effort. But, from experience, I realized that many students are unphased by COVID-19 because they think they are not vulnerable to the virus. Although the school is trying to its best to minimize physical contact, it was easy to spot students with arms around their friends in the hallways or talking to each other without their masks. Since there is no measure to catch every single student who is not abiding by the guidelines set by the school, social distancing is definitely not easy to maintain. The school also created virtual assemblies to avoid gathering the entire high school into one auditorium. Unfortunately, this greatly ruins the purpose of community time, and technological difficulties definitely hindered the delivery of information. Throughout the assembly, it was hard to tell if anyone was paying attention which seemed to also affect the overall atmosphere.

On the first day back at school, teachers seemed flustered by teaching with their masks on, as the mask muffled their voices and slid off while they spoke. Students have started to adjust their sleep routines, adapt to the physical learning environment, re-calibrate their new timelines, get ready for finals, and deal with the heaviest workload of the year. The cancellation of the IB exam and two SAT exams and the delay of the Korean Aptitude Test will be a considerable stress factor among students and especially juniors, because this is a time when they should feel a sense of structure and certainty as they prepare for college applications. In recent days, I have noticed students looking more and more demotivated as they struggle to adapt to a change in the environment. It also did not help that many assessments had been backed up which meant our workload would have to increase for every quiz and test we missed while taking classes from home. Hopefully, the spread of COVID-19 slows down by the next school year, so that students can get back to their normal school routines.




Rayoung (Madeline) Lee
Junior (Grade 11)
Seoul Foreign School

Rayoung (Madeline) Lee  student_reporter@dherald.com

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