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    Masked, Sanitized, 1 Meter Apart: Shanghai Goes Back to School

    Strict sanitation and social distancing rules are the norm as local schools resume classes.

    SHANGHAI — Just before 8 a.m. on Monday, teachers at Luwan No. 1 Central Primary School in the city’s downtown Huangpu District reminded students to maintain a distance of 1 meter between each other.

    The children were then told they should pass through a temperature scanner by the main entrance every day. Next, they would place their hands beneath a hand sanitizer dispenser. Inside the classroom, meanwhile, they would all be seated a safe distance apart.

    It was an important lesson for the fourth and fifth graders on their first day back to school, which had been closed since the Lunar New Year holiday due to the coronavirus pandemic.

    Students returning to Shanghai schools are learning more than just their usual curriculum, with reminders of the importance of social distancing and strict sanitation measures now incorporated into their daily routine.

    “I’m excited and happy,” Dai Wei, a fourth grader, told Sixth Tone. “Getting back to the classroom after such a long time means I can study with my teachers and hang out with my friends. … Studying online wasn’t the same as coming to school. I was feeling a bit lonely.”

    “Classes in schools mean we can get guidance from teachers, and we can also chat with classmates in person,” said Lu Jiaqi, a fifth grader. “I felt a bit distracted and tired when I studied online.”

    Shanghai’s fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh and 10th graders returned to school Monday, after other grades returned earlier to prepare for exams: eighth and 11th on May 6; ninth and 12th on April 27. Kindergartners as well as first through third graders will wait another two weeks and return to school on June 2.

    Gu Wei, who oversees a fourth grade homeroom, said he was happy to see his 30-plus students in person after the lengthy interval. The 50-year-old Chinese language teacher added that his first lesson was to help the students understand the new rules — including practicing better sanitation habits and having lunch in separate areas to avoid overcrowding — before jumping into the course materials at a slower pace.

    “We won’t get ahead or lag behind, but we may take it a little slower so they (the students) can transition smoothly to the classroom and not feel the pressure all at once,” Gu told Sixth Tone.

    Parents who spent months tutoring their children after classes went online said they, too, were relieved to have schools reopening. Just a week before classes resumed, Luwan No. 1 organized a parent-teacher meeting to prepare for the students’ return.

    “I’m also quite happy,” said the mother of a fourth grader, surnamed Xia. “Schools are the best place for children to learn. Studying at home is just an alternative.”

    Xu Lin, head of the school’s infirmary, said she and her colleagues have had a heavier workload due to the increased safety measures. Some schools have distributed “smart wristbands” to students that automatically report their temperature to an online monitoring system. Luwan No. 1 has supplied such wristbands to students returning to Shanghai from outside the city.

    “The first part of my day is the morning entrance check. If a student’s temperature measures above 37.3 (degrees Celsius), we bring them to the observation room for two more temperature checks,” Xu said, adding that she then makes rounds among the classrooms to check on students, reporting any worrying symptoms to the local disease control center.

    The school has also prepared personal hygiene kits for each student with hand sanitizer, alcohol wipes, and face masks inside.

    A few blocks away at Dajing High School, students were also excited to return to classes. However, one teacher said it won’t be smooth sailing for many senior students, as they may have to do extra work to make up for the disruptions. Students preparing for the gaokao, China’s grueling college entrance exam, may face prolonged pressure now that the test has been rescheduled for July.

    “There’s anxiety (about the gaokao) every year, but it’s much stronger this year,” said Yang Jiwei, the head 12th grade teacher at Dajing. Yang added that counselors are available to help students cope with any stress they’re experiencing.

    Editor: Bibek Bhandari.

    (Header image: A group of students on their way to school in Shanghai, May 18, 2020. Shi Yangkun/Sixth Tone)