The first week back at school in seven months passed in good health and free from major incident. That, I guess, is as good as we could have hoped for.
In truth, our rientro (re-entry), as the Italians like to call it, went exceedingly well, especially for our youngest, for whom we were most concerned. He seems to be settling in nicely and looks forward to going to school each morning.
His school, a small village elementare (primary), also seems to be coping, in what must be extraordinarily difficult circumstances for teachers, staff and administrators. For the moment, they have struck just the right balance between providing necessary updates and avoiding information overload; no easy feat considering the plethora of ever-evolving regulations, guidelines and forms in circulation.
The little fella has taken to sneaking (I hesitate to use the word stealing) leftover items from merenda (snack-time) into his school bag and bringing them home with him, generally a piece of hard bread, but also a banana or a tub of yoghurt. On reflection it seems to be an extension of his nursery school habit of bringing home assorted sticks and stones that he’d found in the playground. God knows what he’ll be pilfering by the time he goes to high school!
Of course, for our eldest the second year of scuola media (middle school) hasn’t proved quite so appealing, but that, I suppose, is to be expected. The prospect of ‘double maths’ on your first day back at school after seven months was surely someone’s idea of a bad joke. By midweek, his bag weighed in at 10kgs, which must be some kind of breach of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child!
More generally, my impression is that the situation in our corner of Italy has been handled as well as can be expected.
The instructions, when they finally came, were clear and practicable. Each child was issued with a packet of disposable masks and is required to wash their hands before they enter the school building. Entry and exit is staggered to avoid overcrowding inside and outside the gates, and parents have been asked to sign a ‘pact’ with the school, agreeing to comply with a list of Covid-related rules.
There have, of course, been some snags.
The local newspaper reported that one child fainted in class while wearing a mask. It was exceedingly hot in Verona last week and asking very small children to wear masks for prolonged periods of time is clearly not without its risks.
One little girl we know developed a fever the day before she was due to start primary one. She and her mother went through the isolation and testing procedure and, when the test came back negative, she was able to go to school, just four days behind schedule. There have been queues for testing at the local testing centre but so far, the system seems to be coping.
There were also predictable scenes of serious overcrowding on the city’s buses, as children travelled from their homes in the suburbs to schools in the city centre. Cycling has been touted as a solution to this problem, but few parents would allow their child to cycle on the busy city roads. As a keen cyclist myself, I know how dangerous they can be. So, it hasn’t been perfect, but I don’t think anyone was expecting it to be.
You’d think that with that tricky first week successfully navigated, we could press on, full steam ahead, and make up for some of that lost time.
On Sunday and Monday, regional elections and a constitutional referendum took place across Italy. The schools were used as polling stations, which meant they were closed to pupils Monday and Tuesday.
And late last Friday afternoon, we received notification that a strike was scheduled for Thursday and Friday this week.
With these, you never know what is going to happen happen until the very last moment, but we must assume that there will be no teaching.
So, for parents, teachers and pupils, this may well be a one-day week. We haven’t seen the back of home-schooling yet!
Richard Hough has lived in Verona since September 2011 and writes about the region’s history, football, wine and culture. His first book, Notes from Verona, a short collection of diary entries from inside locked down Italy, is available here. He is currently researching his next book about wartime Verona.