The 7th and 8th graders at the Darka Netivei Noam secondary school in Gedera have been suffering from social deprivation and it isn’t hard to see it on them. After months at home and a total of only three weeks in school this past year, they speak excitedly about the chance to finally see their classmates.
It’s a small religious school, with two classes in each grade, one for girls and one for boys. On Sunday, the 7th and 8th graders came back, and the 9th grade will be returning later in the week. Every students will be studying in class twice a week. That’s the plan for the next two weeks; the principal doesn’t dare to plan further ahead.
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“I haven’t played soccer with my friends for months,” said one of the pupils from Grade 8-1, who was waiting for his turn to play. His classmate said he had hardly seen any friends during the remote learning period, “But the truth is that my studies actually went better.” During recess many of the 7th-grade girls were hugging, even though they were supposed to remain two meters apart. They admitted they couldn’t contain their excitement during class. “We’ve noticed that today we were looking more at each other than at the teacher,” said one girl.
At the Sieff and Marks School in Jerusalem, the 7th to 10th graders were happy to be back in the building, with friends and the familiar routine. “It’s like a holiday, everyone’s coming and high-fiving in the hallways, you see that they’re happy,” said Ofek Yedid, a 10th grader. “I missed it. I prefer school. The only thing that’s not as good is that if there’s a boring spot you can’t do something else.”
Maya Ashkenazi, also in 10th grade, admits that there are plenty of advantages to remote learning. “I’ve gotten used to it,” she said. “It was nice at home, and socially I do fine without school. I started to close myself in my room more, I feel like outside my room I’m more irritable. I’ve also got used to having my phone with me and if a class bores me, I’m on Instagram.”
Dana Hirschfeld, a 7th-grade homeroom and English teacher at Sieff and Marks, says that when she entered the building in the morning she felt like “I was on the red carpet in Hollywood, walking and waving to teachers and pupils. Yesterday I had to make sure that I had clean slacks, that I had makeup and look – I’m wearing shoes!”
The return to the classroom brought with it some unexpected difficulties. “There’s a class that I’ve been teaching since September and I never met any of them; I didn’t know they had legs,” said Shlomit Oren, the 10th-grade coordinator. “I went into the class and I was reading off names and didn’t know where to look. On Zoom the name is written underneath, but I got used to not making the effort. Suddenly they also have height. I see someone who I thought was a giant and suddenly I realize that she’s that short girl.”