Dedicated teachers and enthusiastic students returned to Israeli schools after the coronavirus lockdown. Some, however, are waiting, concerned the move could be premature.
By Tsivya Fox-Dobuler
Teachers and students returned to school in several Israeli cities on Sunday. Schools have been closed since mid-March to control the spread of the dreaded coronavirus.
“The dedication of the teachers during this time has been unbelievable,” Tzippy Erblich, an English teacher who works in three Israeli schools, told United with Israel (UWI). “Especially for the first day back, they prepared incredible lessons to welcome the students.”
Regulations include a daily note from parents testifying that their children have no symptoms of illness, taking temperatures at the door, wearing a face mask, regular use of Alcogel, scheduled cleaning of desks and chairs, and social distancing. Teachers with underlying health issues or over the age of 65 have not returned.
“Classes have been split into smaller groups in order to maintain social distance and students no longer change rooms or seats, in order to limit the spread of any possible germs,” Erblich, who refers to this chaotic time as “Coronacoaster,” said. “Teaching eight students instead of 30 is actually very productive and we get a lot done.”
Kayla Gerecht, 8, from Modiin, was learning via the zoom app since schools closed. She even continued her gymnastics classes thanks to the online platform.
“Kayla was nervous to go back to school because of the virus and having to wear a face mask,” David Gerecht, Kayla’s father, told UWI. “But it was inevitable that life would start up again and, at least this way, there are controls in place. When she comes home, we make sure she cleans herself well.”
Gerecht credited Israel for quickly placing restrictions on the country when it became clear that coronavirus would become a pandemic. “We have family in New York,” he said. “It’s striking to see the difference between our countries. Though all this is scary, here it seems less scary, as people listened to the dictates and self-quarantined. There was never panic buying.”
According to the Israel Education Ministry, 60 percent of students whose schools have reopened attended on Sunday.
For Bayle Gold, a divorcee from Ramat Beit Shemesh, her children’s return to school was a welcome relief.
“I found it very stressful to have my kids at home,” she told UWI. “I’m not good with schedules, and our internet often went out or was slow during zoom classes. Also, I’ve known my children’s teachers for years and trust them completely. I feel confident in Israel’s decision to go back to school.”
Gold’s first-grade daughter told UWI, “I feel really good to be back in school and see my friends again. I didn’t understand the zoom classes very well.”
“It feels so good to put on my uniform as I didn’t wear it for a really long time,” she enthused.
Some parents are concerned that children returning home at the end of the day could infect family members with the coronavirus. Comments made in a Facebook thread ranged from, “I’m waiting another two weeks to see how things go,” to “I feel very reassured at the measures made to keep everyone healthy but I’m afraid I will miss my kids.”
Rabbi Hallel Barzilai, a teacher in Gush Etzion, said students are happy to be back with their peers and teachers. “Everyone was so happy to come back and be together,” he told UWI.
“I didn’t sense concern from teachers or students about coronavirus,” he told UWI. “There were no feelings of stress, panic, or fear. We kept reminding everyone to wash their hands and keep separate, which they were already used to from home.”
Sunday’s opening only included first through third grades. By week’s end, grades 11 and 12 will be included.
Several cities, however, including Tel Aviv, decided not to reopen the schools, despite government approval.
Should coronavirus remain stable throughout the country, all classes are expected to resume by May 10.
“Teachers in Israel are dedicated to following Health Ministry guidelines,” Erblich said. “We are the guinea pigs for the country’s economy to get back on track. We are the brave soldiers on the frontlines and everyone is waiting to see what happens to us. We understand that and are giving 100 percent to keep everyone healthy, learning, smiling, and happy. All that shows the real spirit of Israel.”
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