For the third time this year, the entrance to Rokach Elementary School in south Tel Aviv was bounding with balloons.
The first time was September 1, the second time two months later when grades 1 through 4 were allowed back in from the coronavirus crisis. On Tuesday, fifth- and sixth-graders won a reprieve from distance learning, and the excitement was in the air.
Already at 7:45 a batch of kids were standing near the school’s entrance gate in the Yad Eliahu neighborhood, eager to get in. Alas, due to the coronavirus directives, the higher grades had to wait until 8 A.M.
One teacher asked the children to stand patiently at a safe distance from each other. When the signal came, she pleaded, “Wait a second, don’t run!” They ran.
Some of the kids were still confused. “Where’s the classroom of 5b capsule 1?” someone asked. This fifth grade of 63 students has been split into three “capsules,” each of which will toil five days at school and one at home. There simply aren’t enough classrooms for everybody.
Break time also looks a bit different. Each class gets only one recess outdoors, and during the second recess the kids have to stay in the classroom to prevent crowding in the schoolyard.
There were 21 students in teacher Raz’s fifth-grade class, and it was hard to imagine how, before the coronavirus, that number topped 30. Even on Tuesday, the classroom was pretty crowded.
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Still, there was joy in the air. Raz – kids in Israel know their teachers by their first name – played music to start the day and didn’t hide that he was happy. “What fun to see you in 3D and not on the screen,” he said.
Despite the glee, Raz quickly got serious. “The fact that we’ve returned to the classroom doesn’t mean that the virus is over,” he said, asking the children to carefully obey the directives and not forget to wear a mask in class.
“I won’t run after you, it’s in your own interest. You remember what it’s like to be in quarantine; we don’t want that to happen again.”
He mentioned that a significant increase in sick people would mean that Israel’s schools would close again.
Soon enough, the English lesson began. The teacher, Zivit, couldn’t enter the classroom because, according to the directives, each teacher can only teach three capsules. Zivit is already teaching fourth-graders. The solution: She broadcast the lesson to the fifth-graders via the classroom projector.
Meanwhile, the students were supervised by assistant teacher Liraz. Amazingly, this arrangement worked smoothly. The teacher screened a song via the computer, and most of the class joined in: “Good morning, nice to meet you.”
In the hall outside, Raz gave a Zoom lesson to the sixth grade; he talked about Greek gods while the children sat in an improvised classroom in the basement.
It was hard to hear him there, and the assistant teacher had to work hard to keep the kids quiet. Still, several students managed to show an interest in a Greek god or two, whether Gaia, Uranus or Atlas. At a time like this, it’s probably a good idea that somebody’s making sure to keep the sky in place.