On March 15th, 2020, Spain’s schools closed their doors per the regulations dictated by the Spanish government.
For months afterward, school administrators made a great effort to find the appropriate strategy to reopen schools as soon as possible. You see, much of Spain’s economy is geared toward tourism. Therefore, families staying at home for extended periods have proved to be detrimental to the economy.
Nearly 84 million people visited Spain in 2019, with British tourists surpassing the 18 million mark each year from 2017 until 2019. With the closure of borders, virtually all tourism came to a halt. The Ministry of Education worked to support educators as they transitioned to remote learning platforms. Naturally, as contagion numbers fluctuated, regions were given the power to reopen establishments, including schools.
Grade school children officially returned to school starting in September. For those teachers that were hesitant to return, substitutes were called in. To start, all members of staff were required to be tested for COVID-19 and present negative results before returning to work. The Education Ministry of the local government in Andalucia, for example, covered the testing expenses for staff in this region. Each school is sanitized daily and frequently, inside and out. Parents and guardians are cautioned to wait outside or enter the school grounds only if necessary. No one can pass the entrance gate unless they are wearing a mask. Parents and guardians are cautioned to wait outside or enter the school grounds only if necessary. No one can pass the entrance gate unless they are wearing a mask. Hand sanitizer is available at each entryway and in all common areas. The students interact with each other in “bubbles” meaning that one to two grades are housed in separate corridors to prevent cross-contamination.
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For example, in the school I work in, we have three bubbles excluding the pre-kindergarten classes, which already had separate learning and playing areas.
Bubble 1: Years 1 and 2 study in one corridor.
Bubble 2: Years 3 and 4 study in another corridor.
Bubble 3: Years 5 and 6 are located in a separate corridor.
Teachers are cautioned to keep within their bubbles, too. The only time teachers interact with each other during school hours is in the lounge, which is routinely sanitized and has ample space for social distancing, and while supervising the students in the yard during playtime. They must also sanitize any shared properties and supplies, like desks, computers, and erasers after use. For those who have trouble projecting their voices while wearing a mask, they are permitted to use headsets equipped with microphones.
Besides, trips being canceled for the school year, screens have been placed in windows, and teachers are encouraged to reduce their physical presence while communicating as much as possible, including corresponding with students and parents via phone, email, and e-learning platforms. Teachers, along with police officers and others in public-facing roles were granted the option to be vaccinated starting this month. Should any member of staff, student, or members of their families become infected, they are to notify the school to discuss quarantine measures, possible symptoms, or the need to be tested before returning.
The cleaning staff works endlessly to sanitize the entire school before, during, and after classes. They wash the outdoor areas, clean restrooms, wipe down desks, and make sure sanitizing and other cleaning supplies are filled and on hand. Ventilators have been installed in classrooms with low ventilation. Windows and doors remain open to further ventilate each area. On cold days, heaters were brought in and children were permitted to bring small blankets to keep warm at their desks.
Each school keeps a heavy arsenal of gloves and disposable, medical-grade masks in child and adult sizes should anyone need one. Children must refrain from touching their masks, property that doesn’t belong to them, and each other as much as possible. They sanitize and wash their hands frequently throughout the day, with either their own supplies or supplies provided by the school. If anyone fidgets with their mask, coughs, or sneezes, they are encouraged to clean their hands and sanitize their area. When the day is done, the children line up and are escorted to their parents and guardians who eagerly await them at their designated exit points.
They also have the aid of remote learning–for example, using Google Classroom to upload teaching material and communicate with parents and students. With the added cooperation of parents, the government, and medical and school officials, teachers and students have the opportunity to congregate safely, allowing for emotional connection in a supportive learning environment. Rates of transmission have been minimal with very few if any schools being required to shut down.
All of this has shown that the resilience of teachers and support staff during this time is pertinent to the benefit of students receiving a face-to-face education. And coupled with the commitment of the government, Spain is proving how possible it is to reopen schools. And then, hopefully, reopen for tourism, too.