our pandemic diaries

MARCH - MAY

 March saw the end of the test week and a fantastic fun gala for the juniors.  Staff were finalising marks and doing remedial work with learners when on a Sunday evenin, the president announced that schools would close early.  Fortunately, we had completed our assessments for the term and reports would be ready in time for handing out.
 
The Dalai Lama said, “When we meet real tragedy in life we can react in two ways, either by losing hope and falling into self-destructive habits or by using the challenge to find our inner strength.”
 
On 17 March school closed earlier than expected. We did not have assembly in the hall. We did not sing or play videos or congratulate people’s achievements as we usually do at the end of term. We all remained in our classes and Mrs Stear delivered her speech through the intercom. The way of doing things had changed.
The Matric Farewell and items on school calendar for April cancelled.  At the time, it was hoped that new dates could be found.
The March holidays were being started early and would be extended and schools would only reopen on 14 April, after the Easter weekend, with the expectation that learners would be given work to do.  At first, everyone was excited over the prospect of staying home an extra two weeks. Even though they’d have to take work home with them or download it from the D6, which saw an unprecedented spike in new downloads and users. The teachers also did something they probably never imagined they’d have to do… start a WhatsApp group with their learners!  It was a frantic few days as learners received notes and instructions on what to do. Sadly, there were girls who chose to not attend schools these critical days who could not have known what serious implications this could have.
Right from the outset, when the learners received work they would query whether this work had to be done since it was technically holidays and the teachers would have to explain, as they learnt nothing if not patience in this period, that learners could have a few days holiday but that work also needed to take place. 
President Cyrill Ramaphosa announced Lockdown in South Africa for 21 days on Monday (23/03) for 21 days from 26 March to 16 April  to contain the spread of the coronavirus. On 9 April, the president announced that the lockdown was being extended for another two weeks. The words “my fellow South Africans” would soon take on an ominous meaning. Excitement gave way to worry and fear. Parents would have to be teachers longer than they had anticipated and children had to be their own disciplinarians
We had entered a new normal, new routines and rituals. Some had taken on new hobbies and exercise regimes or have had to watch their family do it. Jordan Oldham said “My dad has been doing his own thing during the day and my mom and I usually bake, play games and clean up, which is usually my cue to go back to studying. Some challenges I have faced from working from home would be that I am out of routine which I don't like, as well as missing out on birthdays. The only thing that has been unusual during this lockdown is when my mom decided it was time to start working out - that did not end well.”
Sara Gopal had a slightly different experience she said “My family has been following a lockdown routine very similar to our usual routine. My parents continue to work, and my brothers and I do our homework and studying during ‘school times’.” Zaara Rockman added, “Although I have had the privilege of going to bed and waking up anytime I please, I am often faced with a ton of work once I decide to dedicate my time to doing it. This would leave me cooped up inside the house for hours while doing homework or simply relaxing, without thinking much of going outside to get a little bit of fresh air.”
Not everyone got to stay home during the lockdown. As the levels started to become more and more lenient that meant a lot more parents were going back to work. This was another added stress because the learners were losing their substitute teachers, meaning all the work and understanding would, in large part fall back to them. Nurses, doctors, those who work at supermarkets and filling stations. Esethu Bontsi said “Its been very stressful for me. My mother is a nurse at Provincial Hospital. She must go to work every day. It is challenging because I must do a lot of work by myself.” and Amahle Mdineka had a slightly different approach to the matter “My parents are essential workers. My father is a senior forensic analyst at the SAPS. It was nice being home alone for a little while.” Sara Gopal, whose parents are both medical professionals, said her father, a surgeon at Livingstone Hospital “encountered many challenges in these last weeks but he has learned to adapt to the protocols” her mother is a general practitioner and has volunteered her services online by providing advice on Covid 19 related issues.
Beyond health, the other pressing matter related to the crisis was the progression of the academic school year. Sadly, the cultural and sporting calendar was lost but the books could still be saved. Although, this endeavour also presented challenges. How were teachers to teach if there was no school to teach in or children physically in front of them? We have well and truly entered the internet age, and everyone had their eyes on the education system to see if it could keep up. The disparities of our social structures became excruciatingly evident. Not only in our Riebeek family, but the world over.
The girls had received work at the end of the term but as the weeks stretched on more work had to be sent home. A lot of the girls said they received their work through the D6 or WhatsApp groups created by their subject teachers. Some educators even taught themselves a new skill- zoom conferencing, which wasn’t without its hiccups or anxieties. The learners said they found additional assistance on sites like Worksheet Cloud, the Vodacom eschool, Siyavula, Youtube and watching educational programs on television. A lot of the girls accessed their learning material through their cell phones and tablets but on limited data plans. This meant that their school at home lives had to be planned well and required vigorous discipline. Some were lucky enough to have access to laptops and unlimited data plans and parents who were able to print the work out for them.
Riebeek girls are unflinchingly and unapologetically an optimistic group of people. When they cannot find the silver lining, they paint their own. Tamia Smith in Grade 9 wrote, “I hope my peers will BE POSITIVE. Use the resources you have and make the best out of it. Calm yourself, the storm will pass.” Jordan Oldham added, “My advice to everyone is that we are all in this together and will get through it together, for now, all we can do is work our best and prioritize. Have faith in your abilities and don't procrastinate too much.” Where others saw crisis, many Riebeek girls saw a challenge, an opportunity, a time to reflect. The Covid 19 pandemic took away our assembly but it could never take away our ability to come together. Even if its only from a distance.
 
Mrs Stear wrote on 3 April, “We are now one week into the enforced nationwide lockdown.  In the pre-coronavirus outbreak timeframe, the schools would have started this week for the beginning of the second term.  The reality is that South Africa is in a total shut down and our schools are closed as our government rolled out drastic measures amid the COVID 19 pandemic.  Schools have been identified as one of the biggest threats in terms of transmission. 
There is currently a great deal of uncertainty in the education sector. We do not know when the schools will reopen, we do not know how lost time will be made up. We do not know what the dates of the next quarters will be, etc. We do know that the rest of 2020 will be a disrupted school year, and that many sports, cultural, social and fundraising activities have been postponed or cancelled.  However, I wish to emphasize that the schools' core business is academia - providing quality education to every learner.  The staff at Riebeek will ensure that the school's core business can be continued successfully with the key words at present being, “learning at home”. We strive to achieve success academically in 2020. Of course, sports, culture and social activities are part of normal schooling, but when we operate under pressure, we must prioritise and make sure that we do everything possible to ensure that education can continue. Abnormal circumstances require abnormal solutions.
 
A word of caution, social media is at present overflowing with so-called “learning sites” offering assistance. It may be confusing to the learners to make use of all these “helping hands in the cloud” on top of what their teachers have given them. Please be guided by what the teachers have provided to the learners on the d6.
 
Riebeek prides itself on values driven education. We have therefor taught our learners the value of resilience, time management, organizational skills and independence. We therefore believe that our learners are well equipped to settle into a routine at home of working diligently and responsibly, and seeking help from teachers when necessary.  Work should not be left to accumulate as steady and continuous work on a daily basis with self-discipline will be most effective.
 
We are immensely proud of our teachers who have found innovative ways to continue the school work in manageable, constructive ways.  For example, our senior Mathematics learners are writing online tests and our learners are receiving answers to questions to guide them as they go along.  The teachers are also using this time to device innovative catch-up plans.”
 
By 10 April, Mrs Stear notified the parents that President Cyril Ramaphosa had extended the lockdown to the end of April. This meant that school could possibly reopen on 4 May. This was a learning curve for us all, teachers, learners and parents, as we navigated together new methods of teaching and learning. We thanked and encouraged our learners who had risen so admirably to the challenge and worked diligently at home, with their teachers to guide them. A group of Old Girls from the Class of 2019  assisted as tutors and mentors to the matric class of 2020. Tamia Smit, Casey Els, Monique Balie, Zeenat Lukie, Lerise Johnson, Meaghan Botha, Tara Wood and Sihlumile Majombozi, as well as Nicola McEwan, Headgirl of the class of 2014. Their kindness was heartwarming in these bleak times.

Distance learning came with its own set of unique challenges and we urged learners not to be too hard on themselves if they were struggling to keep up with the workload. We acknowledged that many of our learners have serious obstacles to overcome when working and studying at home. These obstacles included the possibility of distraction by young siblings, low data, no printer, overused devices, working from a small screen and no Wi-Fi, just to name a few. Learners were encouraged to keep on working at a steady pace without panic and feelings of insecurity. Mrs Stear wrote,
“Mentally and emotionally, we need to take care of ourselves and to nurture a gentle acceptance of all the difficult emotions arising. We are going through a collective trauma, which is bringing up grief, loss, panic over livelihoods and the possible loss of life. We need more self-compassion in this time when our normality has been turned upside down and uncertainty makes sustained concentration a challenge.  Anxiety may manifest in a variety of ways including anger, lack of focus, procrastination, difficulty sleeping, blame of others, avoidance, negativity and/or over-planning.  We encouraged our parents and learners to monitor these behaviours.“
 
New work was loaded onto the d6 and needed to be monitored frequently. (It is zero-rated for MTN incurring no data costs). We considered many factors when deciding on work: whether it is necessary, whether it is needed for further grades or assessments, whether it can be done with limited interaction, whether our learners can access it readily, whether they have the resources to do the work etc.  Careful thought went into what is essential in each subject and what coul be discarded for a period of time. 
 
A request was made that all refrain from publicly scrutinizing teachers for the way they were teaching or the lessons and worksheets they assigned.  We asked that everyone offer grace to the teacher as education is our number one priority. Our teachers love teaching and  did their absolute best.  Different subjects required different approaches. The teachers worked hard to provide a balanced education while recognizing the difficulties our learners were experiencing and the challenges being faced.  Do give our teachers the benefit of the doubt.  
 
Mrs Stear made mention of the youngest of our learners: “Juniors, your teachers are missing you and we hope that you are reading a lot, helping out at home with chores and keeping yourself busy by doing your school work.  Remember that you are special and we will help you when you return to school with catching up with the work.  I encourage you all to take any positives you are able to out of these seemingly negative times. Enjoy close time with your families and be gentle with each other. Connect with one another on meaningful levels and spent time on reflection and meditation. I especially challenge the Riebeek girls to include some physical activity into their programme for each day as a healthy body creates a healthy mind. This too shall pass.“
 
Because we had no idea when school would resume, the implication for our learners was that they needed to keep up with the work as there were no due dates. We encouraged our girls to keep working steadily and calmly through the homework supplied by the teachers. There were cases where certain girls did not do much of the homework set as they felt that they still had “plenty of time.  There were also cases where girls were being extremely diligent and working as much as possible, seeking assistance from the teachers, other learners and from the Old Girl tutors.
 
The teachers missed seeing the smiley Riebeek faces and longed for the day when we could be reunited as a school and get back to our primary aim of educating our beautiful girls. 
  
Data was probably the most important educational tool at the disposal of our learners and we asked that parents make every effort to provide sufficient data access to their daughter/s and that data be used sparingly by all when it came to entertainment sites, where data is limited, to allow the girls access to any available data in the household.  We noted that where data was limited, learners could be innovative and use their notes and textbooks as tools for consistent revision and abundant reading. 
 
Suggestions were offered to endure the continued lockdown: Create a purpose for each day: something you would like to achieve. It can be any number of things such as cleaning out a cupboard, doing some art work, sewing or knitting, running around your house a number of times. It will make you feel happy with yourself and you will feel upbeat. This is beside the homework that you are doing daily. Then try to do a certain amount of exercise daily as this definitely elevates your mood and makes you happier. Give your day structure instead of sitting around being bored. One of the best things you can be doing is READING. All girls from Grade 4 to Grade 12 should be reading! Remember to also look after yourself mentally and emotionally. Be gentle with yourself and those around you. Talk to your parents and siblings with meaning as this will also stave off boredom.  How we respond to challenges is a mark of our character so try to be upbeat show your best side.
 
Mrs Stear noted, “The staff and I have tried hard to keep a spirit of unity and encouragement going in the past weeks as it is very important in these dire times for us to stick together and support each other, even though we are not physically together. In our attempts to do this, we have used social media extensively, and I have to make special mention of Mrs Gerber, who works tirelessly to keep our social media platforms alive with uplifting clips and photographs of our staff and learners. This will prove to be a valuable archive of the times of lockdown.  We thank our learners, parents and teachers who have supplied uplifting material to try to cater to the psychological well-being of our community by keeping us connected.  This, and our teachers’ efforts to keep education going on various platforms, is all done from our hearts. I do not expect to receive criticism from learners on this, but rather I expect them to feel thankful that the staff are so committed to keeping Riebeek united and alive. Our teachers are so resilient and flexible and it has been absolutely incredible to see how these special people have embraced this challenge. They have evolved in such a short space of time into techno pros and crisis management experts. I salute all the school leaders and teachers out there!”
 
Teachers selected work that had intrinsic value in some or other manner. For example, getting learners to make summaries improves analysis and synthesis skills, asking learners to work through exercises establishes some pre-knowledge within the learner enabling the teaching and explaining of the work to be much easier when learners are back in the classroom.  While it is tempting to believe that teachers should be online teaching for full school days, it is not realistic when we consider that this work will need to be relooked at when we return to school for the benefit of those who cannot access online learning at this stage.  Frankly, teachers do not spend all day every day teaching during normal circumstances of a normal school day, as there is also a need for the learner to consolidate, explore, investigate and work with the work.  
 
Parents and learners were reminded, “Rest assured that when we return to school, our teachers will ensure that material issued during lockdown digitally will be made available to those who were unable to access the material, work that the learners did not understand will be explained.  We have an established reputation as a school of academic excellence and the process and aftermath of lockdown will not, in any way, deter us from continuing our academic prowess.”  
 

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 My fellow Riebeek Warriors

An encouraging, precious message from our Head Girl:

 I really do hope that you are all doing well. I must admit that today was quite an experience for me, so I am curious to know how you all are coping.
We are well aware that today would have been the beginning of our second term for 2020, and to be quite honest, I do not think I could have possibly done any more mental preparation to help me through this day alone. Now, it could be the cabin fever kicking in, but not even a day for “Netflix and Chill” seemed as enticing as my longing to simply wait out a whole seven hours before the 2 `o clock bell would cue our freedom. Suddenly, I found myself imagining what class discussions we would have in between lessons, leading to me acting out a full-blown dialogue I would have had with my friends under normal circumstances. (Again, this could just be me going crazy.)
This aside, however, I am sure all of us may share the feeling that something is “missing” and that we can do nothing more than wait out this period of isolation for the weeks to come. However, I am sure we all know that, if anything, this waiting period should be our cue to pick up where we left off last term and gear up for the road ahead.
It is quite easy to feel discouraged. Surely, as humans, we are entitled to feelings of disheartenment. What with the loads of fake news reaching us, we are bound to feel a whole lot of emotions. Panic may tend to lace our waking thoughts, while some of us may have to force ourselves to swallow down our frustration. I must assure you that, given the circumstances we are faced with, these feelings are all normal. But instead of granting these feelings the power to consume us, let us rather try our best to focus on steering ourselves away from the trap that we call “giving up”. After all, no one got anywhere through leaving things undone.
Matrics, we know this time is exceptionally difficult for us. It is okay to feel overwhelmed, as long as you allow yourself to find some form of light to assist you on the way out of this darkness. Let us strive to help one another, to build each other up instead of leaving one another to fight this alone. More than anything, let us remind ourselves that we will surely regret it tomorrow if we do not do our best today. I believe in all of you!
I would love to extend a hearty thank you to our amazing teachers and parents for their guidance and for being more than willing to give their time to overcome this ordeal with us. I can confidently say that we will all make an effort to work to our fullest capacity with your efforts in mind.
I hope to see you all soon and in high spirits for the road ahead of us. Remember, it isn’t over until you have given up. So put on your best amour keep fighting until the end.
You’ve got this, Queens!  Keep shining!  Yours, Azraa
 

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ACKNOWLEDGING OUR PARENTS

Riebeek's Parents are Superheroes:
 
We thank our parents for their unstinting support of their daughters in these past weeks and for making great efforts to help with their studies. Parent involvement is crucial at this time. That does not mean that you as the parent can or should take the place of the teacher. You are there to give moral support to your daughter/s and to make them feel that they are not alone and that you are there to assist them in any way that you are able to. I urge parents to get involved in their daughter’s studies and to monitor their progress. 
 
I acknowledge that this is difficult for parents who are essential workers and we thank them for their services and sacrifices.
 
Maybe you were the parent who made printers appear in the Top 10 Takealot online searches. Maybe you were the creative-minded parent teaching percentages or the scientific-minded parent helping to describe the main character. Maybe you cheated and did a bit here and there (That was helping too).
 
Maybe you could not help with school work but you took on more chores around the house. Maybe, with finances tight, you said you were not hungry so you could make sure your child could do her homework with a full tummy.
Maybe you bought her more data with your last bit of savings. Maybe you could not give homework help, but you gave her extra hugs and love or you gave tough love and strict discipline.
 
Maybe you worked late so she could use your device during the day. Maybe you were an essential worker, and could not be with her all the time, but were taking care of others for us all.   
                                                      
 

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MAY

On Thursday 30 April, the Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga announced at a press conference the fdates for the opening of the Education Sector:
4 May – The return to work of certain Department of Education (DoE) officials
11 May – All principals and SMT members and non-teaching staff.
18 May – All educators return to work.
1June – Grade 7 and 12 learners return to school if all safety and other requirements have been met.
Dates for other grades were not mentioned.
 
The Eastern Cape Department of Education District Director of Nelson Mandela Bay then sent out a circular today that indicated that schools and offices are not ready to open and that the return of staff is postponed until further notice. It would be 8 June before the Grade 7s and 12s returned.
During the initial phases of lockdown, we wanted our learners to know that they were not alone and we wanted them to retain a sense of Riebeek belonging.  For this reason, we embarked on a programme to keep the learners connected. On an academic level, this meant that the learners were in groups on Whatsapp with their teachers or with a learner who was the co-ordinator in conveying messages to and from the teacher.  The learners were also engaged with the school through a variety of social media platforms. Online challenges were taken on and various societies put together videos, our hockey team took on the toilet paper challenge, the prefects send a chain message to learners and various cultural events went online such as our Cultural Civvies Day and club assembly and party.  We also shared with the learners as many opportunities as possible to take part in online activities.  This resulted in our learners being exposed to various online platforms for learning and for enhancement.  We are so pleased that Tania Smith and Jessica Craill took up Professor Jansen’s challenge to submit articles about their lockdown experiences.  The Media Committee had compiled a questionnaire on lockdown experiences and learners had been submitting these for the school magazine and for our archives as we knew it was important that the experiences of these historic times be recorded. Learners were engaged in science experiments, creative arts and other forms of expression during lockdown keeping the Riebeek family active, engaged and interacting.
Behind the scenes, much work was being undertaken. Mrs Stear and the School Governing Body were in constant contact over the way forward and a Covid Fund was established to cover the expenses that would be incurred.  Our magazine printing company, CADAR, became the company to produce posters on safety precaution.  The company that had resurfaced our courts became our supplier of masks and sanitising equipment.  Mr Koekemoer and the support staff were tasked with creating demarcation lines and a system for the screening processes.  Policies had to be drawn up, reviewed and adjusted as new instructions came out. 
The plan of action and operation for when the school would open including sourcing items such as sanitiser, a temperature scanner; among other things; and collecting quotations to have the school sanitised professionally. A risk assessment of the various areas of the school was been done and a procedure to follow created if a learner does become ill at school or develops a temperature. Training material for the school on the correct protocol to follow to protect us from the coronavirus was created.  The budget was scrutinised to plan for the months ahead. 
Appeals were made for the continuation of school fee payments. There were operational costs that do not stop because of lockdown and we needed to keep paying SGB salaries, electricity accounts, our security company; to name but a few.  
The teachers began receiving revised syllabus instructions and revised assessment instructions. Little did they know that these instructions would become outdated and different instructions would follow. 
Mrs Stear wrote, “I want to assure you that we are adopting best practices from industry and that the Governing Body and I have researched this extensively. The safety of our learners and staff is paramount and it is our number one priority. Riebeek will not reopen until we are sure that every precaution has been taken to safeguard the girls and staff.” 
We sourced two layered cotton masks. All girls would be given masks, a huge, unbudgeted and unplanned expense for the school. The masks are fully washable, in the school’s colour and can be ironed.  Requests were made for donations to the costs of the masks if parents felt they were able to do so.  The amount was left to the parent’s discretion if they were able to afford to do so.  We were so pleased when Old Girls saw this request on facebook and responded with generous donations!
Should you be reading this and wish to make a donation, you could using this information:
Bank – FNB         Acc Name- Riebeek College GHS
Acc Number – 53971284352        Branch code - 210316
Reference – mask donation
A professional company sanitised the school in May.
Hand sanitiser with 70% alcohol was ordered in large quantities, together with spray bottles and automatic dispensers that do not require to be hand operated. Paper towels were ordered in large quantities. Safety glasses for learners and face shields for staff were purchased. A thermal scanner capable of scanning a number of people at one time as they enter the building was bought and installed. An isolation room was created.   A Restart Action Plan was drawn up.  The School Governing Body is thanked for their immense contributions in managing these difficult times. 
A new timetable would be needed as learners moving for 6 lessons and 2 breaks would breach safety protocols.  Various venues were considered, various approaches were reviewed and countless drafts of the timing and subject allocations and duty lists were drawn up, revised and perfected. 
8 May would have been Riebeek’s Founder’s Day. Sadly, there were no celebrations but we went online with some celebratory videos and posts. We promise to make the 2021 Founder’s Day a very special, bumper celebration. This is the first time since the inception of Founder’s Day celebrations in 1988 that we have not been able to celebrate it.  
Even in this difficult times, we remained true to the mission statement of Riebeek College: “to prepare our learners to meet the challenges of a changing world by providing relevant education of a high standard and instilling sound values in a stimulating and happy environment.”
 A  week of consolidation and catch up for our learners was held to allow them to catch up.  The teachers loaded summaries of all work that they had issued to the girls. This would help both learners and parents to ensure that they have not missed anything. Great perseverance was needed.

 

 
 

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JUNE

1 June would  have been the restart of school for Grade 7s and 12s and the school seemed especially quiet and sullen today as it seemed to yearn to be filled with the sounds of learning and teaching.  These were complicated times and there was much confusion, discussion and reportage.  It was all quite infuriating. Parents were encouraged to wait for official school announcements as the school was keeping abreast on the union statements, Department of Education instructions and  consulted with various stakeholders.
The Minister of Basic Education said in her media briefing that the matrics and Grade 7s would return to school on 8bJune and that teachers and support staff were to return earlier to “mop up” and prepare the school for reopening and to induct and orientate staff in the Covid-19 protocols to be followed at school. Riebeek completed that process the week before.
There was much discussion about home schooling and parents were encouraged to wait a while before making this big decision.  The reasons allowed for in terms of working from home were: medical reason/s attaching to the learner, the home/ physical environment of the learner, transport, school environment or other . 
We said learners would wear civvies on their return to school.  We also indicated that school uniform or the school tracksuit can be worn.  The important thing was that no item is worn again until washed.  The Grade 7s were told they can bring a blanket, but it had to be washed before it is brought to school again.  The Grade 12s travelled to subject classes so they did bring blankets as they were too bulky to carry with them. 
Riebeek is ready to open but used the extra week to fine tune our processes and further refine our safety measures.  We acquired shoe mats for the sanitising of shoes. 
Mrs Stear wrote, “In the end, no matter what measures we put in place, it is the attitude and behaviour of your daughter that will most contribute to success in our safety measures. If our girls know the correct and incorrect actions then things will run more smoothly. I appeal to you to please talk through with them what your expectations and what the school’s expectations are with regards to behaviour and rules at school. The learners will also receive induction and training on Covid-19 protocols to follow. The teachers of Riebeek will be under immense pressure during this time.  They will continue supplying work for the learners of the grades not due to return yet.  They will continue to supply some direction and work for the learners unable to return with their grade to school (This will not be to the same level as during lockdown but will give the learner support, guidance and whatever the teacher is able to supply.) They will also be monitoring behaviour on the school premises with morning, break and afternoon duties.  They also have to stay very alert during lessons.  This is a lot of pressure and I trust that the Riebeek Family will, as always, support them.” 
By the end of the first week of having the Grade 12 and 7 learners back at school, the staff were exhausted but the week had proceeded remarkably well.  The behaviour of the girls, in both Grade 7 and 12 was truly commendable. They conducted themselves with great maturity and discipline.  The planning that went into receiving our girls back at school was meticulous and time consuming.  . 
Mrs Stear wrote, “I would like to make a special mention of our support staff who have been outstanding in their sanitizing of the various venues between sessions. Throughout the day, there are teams of support staff making a way to sanitise and clean.  It is a logical wonder and quite astounding to observe. 
I ask the girls, Riebeek families and staff to practice social distancing and to follow the correct protocol for Covid-19 even when you are not at school. Our safety protocols are not only about the measures we put in place at school.  It is also about each of you and everyone around you.”
By 19 June, absenteeism from schools by our Grade 7s and 12s was a concern.  We wholeheartedly supported a decision to keep children at home if ill.  Our concern, though, was with the high absenteeism on the days that a task was due. On 21 June, one learner tested positive and the Department instructed the fogging and sanitisation of the school and that the building be empty for 48 hours.  Over time, the Department of Health would issue different directives and closing of the school would no longer be required. At one stage, with some of our learners isolated, class sizes were reduced to 1 to 5 learners at a time, leading to interesting memes being created.
What become abundantly clear to us in the few weeks was to not plan too far in advance as the situations remain fluid.   
It was cold and staff would do one hour shifts outside, sometimes in the rain, always in the dark, to have the learners safe.  Mr de Beer was the cheerleader chief and staff went out of their way to be cheerful and encouraging each morning no matter if their feet were ice-blocks and their anxiety high.  Teachers mastered the art of recognising girls behind the mask, not knocking the shield off while teaching and explaining work with hand gestures, hearing muffled remarks behind the mask of a learner, handing out notes at the start of a lesson instead of during the lesson and becoming a mobile classroom unit with all requirements accompanying the teacher to the venues set aside for teaching: the student centre, the hostel, the prefabs, the hall.  Later, additional venues would be added as more grades returned. 
 

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Hard copy collections


In June,  we gave out hard copies of work done to the learners who requested it or who required it as they were unable to access the work online. Some parents were unable to collect the hard copies at the allocated times. I do understand that it is difficult for parents, especially when they are working. However, the teachers are very busy as the school day is not as it was before Covid-19 and the staff find themselves fully occupied while they are at school. For parents who requested hard copies as they were unable to collect needed to give the teachers two days to put together the copies for your daughter/s.  Visitors were not allowed at the school, by Department of Education regulation, and therefore the request has to be emailed or left with the guard and two days later the work needs to be collected from the guard.  Hard copies were handed out from 5 June to 12 June with staggered time and different dates for different grades.
Because Grade 4,5,8 and 9 would only return in August, the teachers put together hard copies of July’s work and there were compulsory collections of these packs by 1 member of each family on designated days and times on 24 June (Grade 4 and 8) and 25 June (Grade 5 and 9) between 8.30 and 9.30.  There was compulsory handing in of completed work and a hard copy collection for Grades 4 and 8 on Thursday 16 July and for Grades 5 and 9 on Friday 17 July.  Hard Copy Collection and SBA Tasks Handing in also took place from 6 to 17 August.

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JULY

On 4 July, another learner tested positive. Contact tracing was done that morning and learners would self-isolate.  This, in effect, meant that we had various learners self-isolating, some shielding at home because of co-morbidities and other learners at home afflicted with anxiety or health and safety concerns. 
The school was fogged on 1 July which was after the time that the latest case was identified.  The school was sanitised and sprayed daily.  Mrs Stear wrote, “I have again been in contact with the Department of Health.  Having run through the actions the school has taken with them, the instructions I have received is that the school is NOT to close as all safety and health protocols have been followed and we remain low-risk. 
It is a reality that we will see increases in positive cases.  It is a reality that it is becoming increasingly difficult to gain access to testing in the public sector.  I therefore am aware that there will be high absenteeism as learners self-isolate, and this forms part of the necessary precautions that need to be taken.”
 
We welcomed back our Grade 6 and 11 learners in July. The girls quickly adapted to the new routines. Miss Nerine Loock, our consulting psychologist, met with the learners on their first day. The dates for the restart of schooling for some grades had been changed again and would again be changed!
 
Advice was given to the girls: Every day at school for a learner is a precious chance to enhance her education and marks. It should not be spent sleeping or wishing the time away, as there is no certainty when next the grade can be accommodated with a slot of being at school nor can we predict whether a learner may need to quarantine or self-isolate. Make the most of every lesson and every day at school!
 
There was concern about the number of learners who requested hard copies of work, and then these were not collected from the guard at the front of the school. The teachers bent over backward to help learners, and parents and learners needed to become part of the education process and ensure that the hard copies of work were collected on the correct dates and times.
 
Mrs Stear encouraged the girls to make sure that when they do hand in a piece of work for marking, or write a test, that it is work worthy of them and that it will gain them a good mark for their SBA (School Based Assessment). In these uncertain times, one does not know what is going to be needed to be promoted to the next grade. These SBA marks would become more important for promotion to the next grade in 2021.
 
These were extremely stressful times that we were living in and we knew that parents, learners and teachers were anxious and sometimes overwrought, but Mrs Stear requested: “I ask you to please be courteous when making enquiries. Far more is gained by polite, civil interaction. Give us the benefit of the doubt, as we always give you the benefit of the doubt.  I wish to appeal to learners to be polite, ethical and considerate in their interactions with teachers, particularly in terms of the WhatsApp groups. Please communicate with your teachers with the correct formal language usage and respect. These groups have been useful and necessary, but they blur the lines of a teacher’s personal life versus work commitments. Please respect the teacher’s family time by not expecting answers late at night or during weekend family time, unless there is an emergency. General questions not specific to the subject or class that the WhatsApp group is intended for should be directed through the correct channels.”
 
STAINGATE hit and some clothing of learners were stained by the sanitisation. Learners  were instructed to bring a plastic sheet or table-cloth to place on desks / chairs if there was a concern.
 
The Grade Ten learners were due to return to school on Monday 20th July. However, there were loud calls from concerned parents and the unions, SADTU and NAPTOSA, for the closing of schools until after South Africa has reached its peak of COVID-19 infections. The reasons for this call included the serious psychological effect that the exponential number of infections is having on teachers, education support personnel and learners;  the changing science which now supports the possibility that there could be an airborne spread of the virus and an indication that the quarantine period could be shorter than initially established; the World Health Organization’s (WHO) advice that schools should not remain open when the expected peak of the pandemic in a country is at hand. Schools were due to closesfor a short break on 7 August and to reopen on 12 August. Instead schools were closed at the end of July and no grades attended school from 27 to  31 July.  From 3 to 7 August, only Grade 12s attended school. From 11 to 21 August, only Grade 7s and 12s attended school. 
 
 

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AUGUST

Mrs Stear wrote, “As my weekly and periodic letters to you are the only means of communication with the school community including parents and learners, I wish to appeal to you all to read the letters carefully as important information is contained in them.
 
I wish to acknowledge our teachers and support staff who are the education frontline workers. They get up every morning, often filled with anxiety, but still show up for work. They are faced with inadequate support from authorities, but still they are working. Thank you all for your resolve. Staff have faced numerous unclear and often misguided instructions and regulations from authorities, only to have these instructions and regulations changed the next week. This lack of leadership and direction causes anxiety and stress and a far from ideal working environment.  In spite of this, our team has remained positive and determined to make the academic year meaningful. I ask that you please support our staff by ensuring work is being done at home, you keep up to date with information we provide, that Schools Based Assessment is handed in on due dates and that our protocols are followed.
 
To date, Riebeek has had six reported cases of learners who have tested positive for the virus and have self-isolated. We have traced the close contacts of these girls who have then self-quarantined for 14 days.  In some cases, the learner had not been at school for more than 14 days therefore there was no requirement for the school to do a deep sanitization or close as a result of this case.  No staff have yet tested positive for the virus. I ask parents and learners to please not conceal their COVID-19 status, but to rather inform the school when they display symptoms, or have gone for testing and, especially, when they have tested positive for the virus. This is dealt with confidentially but has great value. A small group of people care only about their own health, and safety; but when it comes to others, they act recklessly. The fear of stigmatization is no reason to keep quiet about being infected. If ever we needed to display the spirit of Ubuntu, it is now. Silence about one’s COVID-19 status could become lethal to someone else.
 
We are all painfully aware that the pandemic situation in South Africa is worsening daily, as was predicted by scientists. When we will reach the pinnacle of infections remains uncertain, but it is speculated that it will be any time from the beginning of August to late September.
I am making an urgent appeal for parents and transport drivers to please not U-turn in front of the school, but to rather use the traffic circle at the top of North Street.  U-turning places our learners and other vehicles in danger. I say a big thank you to the parents who do use the traffic circle at the top and bottom of North Street. Please also do not stop your vehicle in the school driveway or in front of the driveways across the street.
By 21 August, schooling was going full steam ahead after the one week break for our senior school staff and Grade 12s and the two week break for our junior school staff and Grade 7s.  In addition, hard copy collections, submissions of SBA tasks and online messaging had ensured that our girls had been given constructive work to do.  We also welcomed back our Grade 5s who reported being glad to be back!
On 24 August we welcomed back Grade 4, 6, 8 and 10.  It was the first time back for our Grade 4s and 8s.  Our Grade 7s had two weeks at home to consolidate the work covered with them in class and to continue with new work given.  The Grade 12s embarked on a study break to prepare for the Matric Trials after wellness programmes, a Jerusalema challenge on 7 August, a talk by Miss Loock, a Women’s Day tribute by the Head Girl, an academic meeting on 20 August with their grade head and academic head to discuss trials and finals and an enjoyable Principal’s Party to celebrate the milestone moment of completing the syllabus on 21 August. On the school grounds, staff  and matrics were dressed up and we saw Catwoman, Harry Potter, Mickey Mouse, a cheerleader, essential workers, Belle from Beauty and the Beast, Dorothy of the Wizard of Oz and other colourful characters! We commended the Grade 7s and 12s on their excellent behaviour at school.  Among all the negatives of Covid-19, there were silver linings and one of those is that the teachers and learners have bonded immensely over the last few weeks of being at times the sole focus of the teacher’s attention and we will look back fondly at the shared journey we had of fear and unfamiliarity with this strange schooling environment in those in early days, and the bonding and appreciation that ensued.  We are so touched by the gratitude and co-operation these young ladies have demonstrated.
 
 

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SEPTEMBER

Mrs Stear wrote, “We had all been thrown into the deep end by the COVID-19 pandemic and we were immensely proud of the efforts that the Riebeek family made to keep our school ethos and work ethic afloat.  When we first went into lockdown nobody expected that the initial three weeks would turn into an almost six month on/off for schooling.
 
I would like to say a huge thank you to our staff. They have rallied in these stressful times, worked together and supported each other. The spirit of the staff has been phenomenal. I am humbled by their absolute commitment, their efforts to keep everyone safe and their determination to educate holistically and finish their syllabuses. Our school staff have been through the same pandemic experiences that everyone has and then, additionally, had to plan and execute school work to ensure that our children do not fall behind. This they did admirably, having to do distance teaching and also cope with their own families, some with young children who could not be left alone.”
The Grade 9 learners were finally welcomed back to school in September! They were full of spirit and positivity. I would like to thank them for their co-operation and positive attitude. The Grade 7 and 5 learners also attended school this week and they have become so accustomed to the programme here that all is running very smoothly.
 
On Monday, 14 September, the matric trial examinations began and ended on 7 October. We wished all our matrics the best of luck and urged them to put the stresses of COVID-19 to the back of their minds while writing and let us, the staff, worry about that on their behalf.
 
We made it very clear that regardless of the Lockdown Level and other circumstances, including negative attitudes related to SBA tasks due, we would not ease our protocols nor drop our expectations or standards.


Mrs Muller, the Department of Education district subject advisor for Consumer Studies, handed over a certificate to Mrs Ferreira and Mrs Stear in recognition of excellence in the practical examination moderation of 2019.
In a first for us, the Moderation of Grade 12 isiXhosa in the district took place via Microsoft Teams. We are proud of our girls who presented themselves so well.


Due to the Cosatu strike on 7 October, the final two Matric trial exams were postponed until 8 October. On Friday 9 October, the Matrics were fortunate to have a day of rest at home and recharge their batteries as they would need to be energized for their last two weeks of schooling where the focus had to be on learning from trials to improve for the finals.  
October was a difficult month a the pressures of the year mounted.  Staff and learners were tired and anxious.  There was a press to get missing marks onto the system and teachers needed learners to come in to write assessments they had not completed, while teachers grappled with the SASAMS system in working out how to implement departmental structures within the confines of the marks programme.
Invigilator training took place for teachers. 
Reports were handed out to all grades on 22 and 23 October. A special video was made for the Grade 12s providing an overview of their years at Riebeek. Valedictory was held on 23 October. There was a one week holiday thereafter.  Term 4 began in November, in a first for schooling. 
 
 In November, the number of COVID-19 cases escalated in the past weeks as we entered our second wave of the pandemic. Riebeek was not untouched by this second wave and we had a few learners who tested positive. Along with many schools, Riebeek needed to remind parents to keep the school informed of Covid Contact or testing positive.
The email from MR HM MWELI, DIRECTOR-GENERAL of the Department of Education, of 9 November containing Circular E31 of 2020 states:  Identification of Positive Cases and Legal Responsibility - “The parents, care-giver or a designated family member that intentionally conceals the COVID-19 positive status of the candidate in their care will face legal consequences should it be later revealed that this information was wilfully withheld by the parent.”                                 
The teaching staff found that the learners tended to have a more casual approach to the protocols of dealing with the virus, especially the need for social distancing. A warning was given that we did not want to hear of classes complaining to teachers about windows being open when ventilation is an important Covid-19 safety protocol.  We saw  learners being slack about the protocols and this is not acceptable.  We again reminded that there should be NO stigmatisation, rumours or slander related to learners who test positive.  A medical diagnosis is a confidential matter and not one that should be discussed by others.  
We also reminded learners to be courteous and respectful, and to obey instructions given by the teachers.  We noted a slackness and even rudeness in the behaviour of some learners as the year drew to a close, but good manners have no expiry date.
Some academic and sporting awards were handed out. 
We were not able to award all the normal awards, and limited the awarding to where we were able to identify a candidate in spite of the challenges of Covid-19I we realised parents and learners may be disappointed that there was no ceremony, but we appealed to all to rather focus on the fact that we were able and willing to identify recipients rather than focussing on what we cannot offer. Congratulations to the recipients. We hope your parents will make a fuss and have a family ceremony at home.   
The matrics were informed that  there would be no Matric Farewell as the president had called for caution and no super spreaders. Though this was sad, it was hoped that the girls would perhaps celebrate with a parent or guardian at a posh dinner at home to mark the transition from childhood to young adulthood. 
The Grade 10s and 11s enjoyed their marathon of tests on 26 November and we thanked them for their mature approach to the tests, arriving promptly at their various venues at the various times for their tests. 
The Grad 8s finished on 20 November with a picnic hamper each and the announcement of the grade prizes, co-ordinated by Grade Head, Miss de Beer. Grade 9s last week needed to be adjusted because of the increase in cases and so they were tasked to only come in for imperative lessons or vital tests and not for full days of schooling. 
The Grade 7s ended their year with a walk down the red carpet dressed as  royalty, the creating of a time capsule to be opened in a matric and a special certificate for each learner.  Other grades finished with games and line dancing.
The Department of Education announced that learners who tested positive or who needed to be isolating could still write exams.  This about-turn was a relief for the matrics and required some quick thinking and planning for the school.  We selected the enclosed swimming pool area as our isolation venue.  Mrs Ferreira’s husband kindly assisted us with the provisioning of Personal Protective Equipment and we hosted a steady stream of positive cases or those needing to write in isolation.  The spirit and appreciation of the girls at this venue spoke to a respect for the lengths the school went to in order to accommodate our girls. 
We were delighted to hear that two of our former principals had a reunion in November.  Mrs Woods, former Riebeek principal, visited Miss Bekker, former Riebeek principal, at Epworth, Pietermaritzburg, Natal. Miss Bekker is due to retire from education at the end of the year.
The Clothing Shop, it was announced.  Would not be opening in 2020 as a precaution related to the rise in Covid-19 cases in the Eastern Cape. Learners will return to school in civvies at the start of 2021 until they have had sufficient time to stock up on school uniform needs.
We also received a circular informing us that social distancing would continue at the start of the new school, and we were thrown into the mammoth task of creating the best arrangements for platooning. The tape measures came out and we frantically networked to find out best practices, as we tried to ascertain the best way forward. 
December saw the school grounds quiet with only the Grade 12s still writing, until 11 December, and the staff prepared reports for handing out mid December and for what it seemed would be a bumpy 2021.
This has been a historic year.  It has been a year of  hurt, loss and change.  It has also been a year of self-discovery and hope.
 
 
 
 
 
 


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Lockdown journals

BY Administrator

Zaara Rockman 6c
There have been different advantages and disadvantages that I have faced while trying adjust to the “Lockdown Experience”. Although I have had the privilege of going to bed and waking up at any time I please, I am often faced with a ton of work once I decide to dedicate my time to doing it. This would leave me cooped up inside the house for hours while doing homework or simply relaxing, without thinking much of going outside to get a little bit if fresh air. However, I am proud to say that I have made efforts with my family to make the most of this period of isolation.
There are four people in lockdown with me , namely my mom, dad, sister and brother. Since the beginning of lockdown, we have been able to dedicate more time to praying together as a family. We have also been able to play board games and bond in ways that we would not have been able to under normal circumstances. I feel as if we have grown significantly closer in within the past few weeks, both spiritually and emotionally.  We have been trying our best to keep positive and we know that although we find ourselves in tough times, we have the power to stay strong and get through this together as a family.
One of my favourite school tasks was a “Lockdown Diary” from Mrs Carstons, where we were instructed to write a daily entry about our experiences at home. The homework for Maths has been especially demanding in my opinion, because of how much we receive each day.
As I am working mostly from my tablet, I have had to face the challenge of being a self-tutor. Sometimes I find myself uncertain about whether or not my method of teaching myself will help me in understanding the work set out for me. However, I have been able to grasp more content in each day, which is a huge advantage for me. Our  teachers have always been willing to help us by making themselves available to post work on the D6 or WhatsApp groups and to answer our questions.
I often find myself thinking of what I could have been doing if we were not on lockdown, and this leads me to missing the simplest things. I miss going out with my family, going to the beach, spending time with family outside my household, hanging out with my friends, and even going to school. These are some of the things that I often take for granted, but that I now miss more with every passing day. Once we have overcome the challenges we now face, I intend to appreciate these things a lot more and to always give thanks for the little things that bring so much joy to my life.
My mom often tells me not to allow my head to be bombarded with everything I need to do at once, but to rather take on a task one step at a time. This is therefore what I want to advise everyone else as well, seeing that we are all faced in similar situations. Let us try our best not to become discouraged because it may feel as if we are drowning in the workload we are faced with. Let us rather try our best to keep going rather than giving up. With positivity and a great attitude, I am sure we can accomplish anything that we set our mind to.
Jessica Craill 12
I now know how my fur babies feel when they are stuck at home and can’t go for walks in the morning. My dad has to work every day.  He had to convert his indoor braai area into an office (in his opinion, doing so is cardinal sin), and he says that he gets a lot more work done at home than he does when he is in his office.  Everything is much the same in our house. I receive my school work through the D6, over WhatsApp and by email. I found Life Sciences to be the easiest. Physical Sciences and Mathematics were, equally, the most difficult.  It is hard to say if I’ve used a lot of data as all four of us in my house share the WIFI.  I’ve definitely used the family computer and my tablet for most of the work.  I’ve used BBC Bitesize, Siyavula and Photomath.  There are four of us in lockdown together (six if you count the dogs too).  Let’s just say that when tensions run high, it’s best to avoid each other.  But if we are all happy, then life is great.  The challenges have been teaching myself Maths and Science and getting enough exercise.  On the positive side, I get to work at my own pace, I can type my Life Sciences summaries as I read through the work instead of spending hours every Saturday doing them after the fact and I get my work done sooner, giving me more time for reading.  I’ve missed my freedom of movement and my best friends.  Advice that I received that helped me was, “Don’t leave for the day after tomorrow what you can do today.  Even if you start today and finish the day after tomorrow.” I also believe in this mantra: Slow down.  Calm down.  Don’t worry.  Don’t hurry.  The message I would give others is : “If you ever feel stupid……Remember that baby sloths sometimes grab their own arms thinking they’re tree branches.”  I fear that my printer is going to run out of ink before lockdown is over, because ink is apparently not an essential item.   I hope that I’ve done enough and worked hard enough to do well in finals.  Apparently, lockdown applies to all people and animals, except for the neighbourhood cats.  They walk around like they own the place.  Overall, I think that this whole thing was a good experience to have, as it teaches you responsibility and self-discipline.
Tania Smith, 9R

My family has no members going to work each day as my family are teachers.  The most important rule is to avoid interaction with other people (known as social distancing). I get my work from the D6 and whatsapp groups. Maths and Biology are my favourite because my sister is here to help me. I'm using a lot of data but it's all for a good cause and I'm working from my phone most of the time. I have used Vodacom-eSchool and educational programmes on TV (317). There are 4 of us in lockdown and it is
going quite well. We are using this time to actually bond with each other. Lockdown has allowed me time for self-reflecting and getting creative, I have missed the most my fellow SCA members , my school friends  and SU & SCA sessions during the school week. What has been hardest is self-studying and staying away from the television. Advice I received is that God is greater than the highs and lows and HE uses trials and tribulations as an invitation to intimacy with HIM.  My favourite message is “You are stronger than all your fears combined." I hope my peers will BE POSITIVE , this too shall pass and it's only temporary; Stop comparing yourself with your peers; Use the resources you have and make the best out of it; Calm yourself ,the storm will pass; God wants to take you through the storm and then give you blessings.  I really hope this will blow over and our lives could go back to normal
L-isten to God's voice and reflect
O-bey HIS WORD and teachings
C-all on HIS name and be calm
K-now what the purpose of all this is
D-well in HIS presence
O-ffer a prayer
W-ait and be patient .This shall pass
N-urture our personal relationship with HIM
Jordan Oldham, 12R
I have had many experiences at home, mostly waking up to loud banging from the kitchen and my Dad starting a new project on the house every day. I never thought that a puzzle could bring me so much joy. My oldest brother still goes to work as he in the health and safety industry and is using all the necessary protection. The only thing that has been unusual during this lockdown is when my mom decided it was time to start working out - that did not end well. We have a group for each subject and have been reviewing our daily dose of homework from there as well as on D6. My favourite subjects have been Maths and History.  I use  wifi throughout the day as everything has become online. I work from my phone and laptop. I am spending my lockdown with my parents so it is just us 3 in the house. It is going well. My dad has been doing his own thing during the day and my mom and I usually bake, play games and clean up, which is usually my cue to go back to studying. Some challenges I have faced from working from home would be that I am out of routine which I don't like, as well as missing out on birthdays. The thing that I have missed the most during lockdown is my church, Father’s House as well as my newborn niece. it has been really hard not seeing my best friends every day and missing the last summer sunsets on the beach. However, advice that I was given was that we should all make the most of this time. My only fear is that this is my matric year and the future just got a lot scarier.  I'm afraid of how my marks will turn out. However, I know that Riebeek has amazing teachers and that they will all be understanding and have comforted and reassured the matrics thus far. My advice to everyone is that we are all in this together and will get through it together, for now, all we can do is work our best and prioritize. Have faith in your abilities and don't procrastinate too much.
 
 
 
 
 
 

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 April 16, 2020
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2020
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