After nearly six months of virtual school and distance learning, international schools in South Korea have finally returned to in-person schooling for the 2020-2021 school year. Due to the outbreak of COVID-19 and spike in infections in Daegu in February, all international schools in Korea had to shut down their campuses for the remainder of the school year. Although Korean schools had already been holding in-person classes throughout the summer, international schools only began doing so in mid-August because we run on the American school calendar.
|[Photo of the author handing the monitor her “orange pass” to ride the school bus.
Photo courtesy of Rachel Lee]
One of the biggest concerns I had before going back to school was the fact that the students of most international schools come from all over the city. Unlike most Korean schools, where students live in the same neighborhoods, international school students come from many different administrative districts. At Seoul International School (SIS), for example, most students live in Bundang, Apgujeong/Chungdam, and Hannam. I was worried that this would mean there would be a bigger chance of an outbreak or infections on campus, since the students there would have had contact with people from a wider variety of places. Another concern I had was that students wouldn’t wear their masks in school. I had read a lot of articles on news sites that schools in the US were struggling to enforce the wearing of masks, and especially considering how some high-schoolers are still in their rebellious phase, I was distraught by the possibility that students wouldn’t wear their masks and possibly spread the virus.
When I returned to campus, I was surprised by how cautious and meticulous the SIS administration was in terms of the COVID-19 guidelines. The high school was divided according to a rotating system, where 9th and 10th graders had in-person learning for two days, and 11th and 12th graders had in-person learning for the next two days. On days students didn’t have in-person learning, they had online classes via Zoom and Google Meet. Furthermore, in order to enter campus at all, students had to submit an “Orange Pass” to the school personnel, with the signature of a parent verifying that their child had no symptoms, had not stayed in a foreign country in the past two weeks, and had not been in contact with a quarantined individual. In addition, students were spaced out in the cafeteria, with only every other seat available to eat at, and with plastic dividers between each seat. Similarly, on school buses, every other seat was marked off with an “X” to maximize the amount of social distancing on the buses. Finally, each student’s temperature was taken twice throughout the school day to ensure that students were not exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms on campus.
|[A photo of the author on the school bus, showing how seats have been marked off to maintain social distancing on school transportation. Photo courtesy of Rachel Lee]|
I was personally very impressed with the stringency and strictness of the policies the school enforced as we returned to in-person schooling this August. I felt that by using a combination of social distancing, symptom checks, and verification of students’ health from their families, the administration had tried their best to make the school as safe for students to attend as possible. However, as a result of the rapid rise in COVID-19 patients over the past week, schools were ordered to return to distance learning on August 25th.
Nonetheless, other students at SIS expressed their satisfaction with the school’s initial control of our return to in-person learning. For instance, Irene Kim, a senior at SIS, wrote, “I believe that the school did a nice job by dividing up the 9th and 10th graders and 11th and 12th graders and rotating face-to-face classes and online classes. It is also relieving that the school is requiring students to wear masks at all times at school and also requiring orange passes before entering the school.”
All in all, it seems that students (myself included) at SIS are satisfied with the school’s enforcement of COVID-19 regulations as we cautiously return to physical school. Although we can’t be too sure how school will operate in the following months, seeing how unpredictable the pandemic has been throughout the year, I can only hope that things will go as smoothly as they did in the beginning of the school year.
Seoul International School
Rachel Lee firstname.lastname@example.org