A View from the Other Side: What Life Looks Like in a Re-Opened German School

by Jake Lupu

J: Do you want to introduce yourself?

N: My name is Nina, I go to an international school in Frankfurt, Germany. I’m currently 17 and a grade 11 IB student, and I used to go to ASW from 3rd grade to 6th grade.

J: Thank you for that. First off, when did you go back to school [from VR school]?

N: That would have been Monday last week, the 4th of may. 

J: And before that, when did you get out of school?

N: It would have been like mid-March. And then we had two weeks of break at some point in April, and then more online school.

J: So, compared to ASW at least, you’ve not had VR school that long, right? For about a month?

N: Yeah, around over a month. A bit over a month.

J: And then you went back to school. 

N: I did. 

J: Do you wanna talk a bit more about that?

N: Okay. Well, because our school [building] is fairly small, we couldn’t have very many grades come back. The grade 10s had already been back for a week, and then we joined them as the 2nd grade in the building. There are a lot of security restrictions still going on, such as wearing masks in the hallways – but not in classrooms! There’s maximum 15 people allowed in rooms. We have to be there between 8 and 8:20 in the morning, so they can manually check us in. And, generally social distancing is enforced.

J: What does that mean?

N: So, we have to be around one and a half meters apart at all times during class and the hallways. You get kind of a new sense for it, where every time now even outside of school when I see a person I subconsciously move away from them until I’m at that distance.

J: Do you have teachers watching you in the hallways and classrooms?

N: Partly, not necessarily. During like off times – in empty classrooms, where we’re allowed to be – we kind of watch out for each other. For some of us who might not be so keen on following the rules, we maybe remind them. But, during lessons for example, teachers will be very strict. And if there are teachers walking through the hallways and there will be someone not wearing a mask, the teacher will definitely remind them. Actually, according to our principal, if people don’t follow safety rules they will be sent home. It just hasn’t happened yet.

J: But there’ve been cases of people not following the safety rules at all times, haven’t there?

N: Yes, but it was accidental. 

J: Ah, okay. 

N: It was at the beginning and the first few days, where people would forget to put on their mask in the hallway, or, I don’t know, accidentally walk too close [to each other]. There were some problems with leaving classrooms where everyone would leave at once and get too close.

J: How do you leave classrooms now?

N: Depends on the class. Usually we just kind of watch out, but then in English for example, our teacher will be like, “Okay, the back-row leaves first” and then we do that. And then the next group leaves, and so on. We’re very small. There are like 14 people in my English class- which is probably one of my biggest classes.

J: You mentioned that before as well, that you have a small school. How many people do you have per grade?

N: Per grade? Hm. In my grade we have around 29 people. So we’re really just one class. And, in secondary, so 6th grade to 12th grade, we’re over 200 people.

J: Are you and 10th grade the only grades in the school?

N: Currently yes, but there’s a calendar. They want to make sure that every grade gets to come back to school this year. But only 2grades can be in the building at once, so 10th grade is going back home next week, and 9th grade is returning. But grade 11, my grade, will stay for 3 more weeks and then we get two weeks of online learning again [Nina foresees my question here and adds] because we’re IB students.

J: So you stay for 3 more weeks, and then-

N: And then we get around 2 weeks ‘off,’ yeah. I dunno if it’s three weeks exactly. But then we come back for one more week, then we have exam week. Then one more week where we’re there and then that’s the end of the school year.

J: Oh, right! Exam week! They’ve not cancelled them?

N: No. [laughs] They have not. We were very unsure about that for a while –  what was going to happen? – but we do only have 1 exam per subject. And, according to the laws of our state in Germany, we’re not allowed to be tested on anything that we learned during online learning, which makes things a bit complicated. 

J: [visibly trying to process this] So… units are split half way? Like, if units are- if you learnt half online and the other half in real life, how would that, what would it look like on the test?

N: What teachers can do is now review those topics and then put those on the exams. So, my French teacher for example (she’s kind of running this operation as well), she only did revision with us during online learning, which makes sense for learning a foreign language B. But, a lot of teachers didn’t [do this]. Also, not all of them have gotten the memo yet, so it’s kinda up to us students to talk to them a lot and ask what’s on the exam, and tell them if there are problems and they aren’t allowed to put certain things on.

J: You also mentioned that you have security measures for getting in and out of schools, are you allowed to explain what they are?

N: Yes, I am, they’re not top secret.

J: Oh, good.

N: Yes. Okay, initially we were told that there were going to be temperature checks every morning, but they didn’t do that because the thermometers weren’t accurate or reliable. So, every morning, as I said, we arrive between 8 and 8:20. We have to immediately disinfect our hands in the front door – using our elbow to press down. There’s a person sitting there, noting our name down, and we take a certain staircase up. The staircases are split up per grade; [grade 11 is] only allowed to use a back stairwell, that is pretty out of the way. The grade 10s are allowed to use the main internal stairway. And then, there’s also certain doors that we’re only allowed to go in through and certain doors that we’re only allowed to go out through. And, even if we have free periods in the mornings, we aren’t allowed to come in later. We have to come in during that time period. 

J: [interrupts] Just to make it clear, before this you were allowed to go in just for classes?

N: Yes. Right. But if we have free periods in the afternoon, and nothing after them, we can go home. If we have a class where out teacher is at home, because they’re part of a risk group – so we still have Zoom classes, but I’ll talk about that later – then we can still go home but we need to sign out and tell someone that we’re going to be joining via Zoom at home. Assuming that you have enough time to get home, of course.

J: Okay. What do you do during your breaks and lunch?

N: It’s kind of different for everyone. I mean, I have a lot of free time now, because I have to come in early two times a week – two hour earlier – when before I wouldn’t have to. Usually me and my friends find an empty classroom, and we sit there for like two hours, each in one corner of the room. We might watch something on our computers together (social distancing applies, of course) and socialise because we’ve been missing a lot of that, or maybe catch up homework. It’s a good time for that.

J: How does this situation compare (going back to school) to classes online?

N: I think going back to school is a lot more stressful, because nothing is back to normal. In classes we have to sit apart, we have to follow all these rules, and sometimes our teacher isn’t even there and we have to still attend zoom calls. Getting adjusted to that takes a lot of energy and obviously waking up early, that kind of thing. I guess it might also be better for our productivity because when you’re at home, a lot of us weren’t required to keep our cameras or microphones on, so I know for a fact a lot of people were just not doing anything, not paying attention.

J: How does this new normal compare to the ‘old’ normal?

N: Hmm.

J: Like, what are the biggest differences for you?

N: I guess… I would walk into school every morning and just hug all my friends. That’s a big difference, since I can’t do that now. Since, well, in Frankfurt it’s kind of a thing. Everyone hugs each other hello and goodbye, even if you barely know each other. So it’s kind of weird to not be able to do that. It feels like we’re all afraid to touch each other now. Then, obviously there’s differences with going in early and some teachers not being there. There’s just kind of a weird feeling.

J: Did they change your schedules in any way, shape, or form to accommodate for this?

N: Simply put, no. Technically, our lunch periods are shifted a bit, so our lunch is now scheduled 20 minutes later, but that only applies for people who have school lunch. They come in 20 minutes later now to pick it up, which makes sense because there’s only a limited amount of people allowed in the cafeteria right now, but otherwise no schedule changes.

J: Do you think this will change in the future? How and why?

N: The schedule?

J: This whole way of school life.

N: I hope that maybe the rule that you have to come in at exactly 8-8:20 changes. I know some people who live with an at risk person want to minimise their time at school, but they still come in, an-

J: Sorry to interrupt, but if a student is at risk, or someone they live with is at risk, they’re not allowed to stay home?

N: Oh, no, sorry, they are. Just this particular friend I was talking about, her mum wants her to come in, and her mum is the at-risk person. That’s why some teachers are staying home, and we actually had some people that are stuck in their home countries because they went with their families to be in quarantine with them. We had some people in Rome who actually came back today, and someone in, I think, Algeria who is not back yet if I remember correctly. So, these people will always be in a zoom call or they’ll get the work.

J: What are your thoughts on this situation? This whole thing, going to school, coronavirus, IB exams cancelled, whatever. What do you feel about this?

N: I’d say I’m a bit lost, a bit angry because there’s so much that we’re missing out that’s going to come back to: lessons that we know we’ve missed and especially in school, in the future, we’ve missed so much for next school year. A bit angry, a bit sad. I don’t know. I feel that we’re all not be doing as well as we could have [on the exams].

J: Are there going to be summer lessons or extra school days or something next year to catch up?

N: No. I think no, because we’ve done online school- online learning- I don’t think that we’re going to do that. Grade 12 is probably just going to be more intense. We’re probably going to have to do some things over the summer, but no lessons. I’m talking about extra EE things, extra assignments, reading books, that sort of thing. I mean, it’s not that bad, since we’re not going anywhere over the summer.

J: Anything else you want to add?

N: I should probably bring in that it was pretty great to see my friends again, even if I couldn’t hug them. I think a lot of people are seeing things as a really big and loose thing with restrictions, which means they might disregard other things, such as going outside in big groups without masks and just doing what they did before and stuff. But everything isn’t quite yet back to normal, so we’ll just have to be a bit more patient.

J: Just to clarify, Germany has different regulations–looser than Poland’s in some aspects, right?

N: Yeah. Everything is being opened slowly but we can’t rush it and we can’t just ignore this just because some things are getting better.

J: Any words of wisdom or advice for when people are going back to school?

N: Just stay calm, listen to what people are telling you. Enjoy coming back: think about what you’ve missed out, and then appreciate those things more.

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