Back to church, back to school – with distancing

Monday 20 April 2020 | Written by Jonathan Milne | Published in Education


Back to church, back to school – with distancing
Iva Vakalalabure greets worshippers as they arrive at the Seventh Day Adventist service in Matavera on Saturday, one of the first services after Prime Minister Henry Puna lifted the ban on church.

We have learned to keep ourselves safe in our families; now we must learn to stay safe in our churches and villages, say ministers and school leaders.

That was one of the messages from Seventh Day Adventist pastor Eric Toleafoa, in one of the first services after the Prime Minister declared Cook Islands Covid-free.

The Seventh Day Adventist congregations across the islands resumed services on Saturday; other churches followed on Sunday.

They returned under strict health ministry rules: no congregational singing, recorded music preferred, but if they must have a choir, no more than five singers, all standing in a row and suitably distanced.

* School holidays extended to April 19
* 'Jumping for joy' as churches reopen
* Churches pray for protection

The Matavera congregation was greeted at the door by Iva Vakalalabure and her sister-in-law Mere, with rubber gloves and hand sanitiser. Families were directed to named pews, keeping their distance from other worshippers.

Members of the 50-strong congregation spoke of their experiences of self-quarantine and social distancing; Pastor Toleafoa told of his worries at returning from travels through Europe and the Middle East; the fear he might bring Covid-19 home to his church and family.

Others were more upbeat. Teenager Sir Puna laughed: “We’ve had a very long holiday and to tell you the truth, we nearly forgot about the Covid-19!”

Today, school is back throughout all the islands – but schools are waiting nervously to seen how many children will return. Some are stranded overseas, and some families have left.

Tereora College principal Tania Morgan said she and her staff were looking forwards to opening their doors to all students, after the long and early Easter break.

“We anticipate some challenges ahead but know that our students, staff and our community will be prepared as best as possible to meet those challenges,” she said.

"We have developed our school guidelines based on information supplied by our Ministry of Education through the Ministry of Health. These guidelines will include what physical distancing and good hygiene practices will look like at Tereora College."

She said the community was more than welcome to phone the school on 23819 or visit the website for up-to-date information.

Secretary of Education Danielle Tungane Cochrane thanks everyone who had made it possible to reopen the nation's school this morning.

"It could not have been possible without the hard work and dedication of our students, their families and teachers," she said.

"Together with Te Marae Ora and lead agencies, the Cook Islands could not have be at this important juncture if it weren’t for everyone’s commitment in following the hygiene and distancing measures put in place.

"Our schools' and teachers' attention to detail and perseverance with implementing healthy hygiene and distancing measures into learning programmes prior to the earlier than anticipated school holidays saw our learners take home and share with their families everything they had learnt.

"The Cook Islands is Covid-19 free and remains a safe place to be, and so are our schools. Teaching and learning will look quite different during these uncertain times and especially during code yellow but hygiene practices like regular hand-washing will continue as part of the school norm for everyone, and distancing will be managed as best as possible.

"We’re all looking forward to having our students back and learning resume, and thank parents and families for their ongoing support with getting children ready for learning."

Araura College Principal, Gaylyn Lockington, who is stranded and working from New Zealand is encouraging parents and students, to make sure they have everything for school, so there would be no sharing of any items.

She urged students to have their own stationaries, own drinks and drink bottles and if possible bring their own lunch.

She also said parents must ensure their children have a spare set of uniform and wash on a daily basis.

“If they’re feeling unwell please stay home but ring the school and let us know, and to always cough into their shirts, wash hands properly regularly and absolutely no spitting.

“Most importantly, be kind.”

She said the school roll should be the same as they only had a couple of students who travelled to New Zealand prior to all this; one for medical referral and another for family reasons.