RACHEL Cook has always wanted to write a children’s story.
But she has never been able to find the time to sit down and do it.
And then the coronavirus pandemic happened – which gave her some free time and also the inspiration too.
Rachel, who works for Carmarthenshire County Council as an adoption support worker, used her time during lockdown to write and illustrate Sammy Sloth Goes Back to School.
The story will hopefully help children who are feeling anxious about going back to school after being home for so long.
Rachel, aged 36, who has always worked with vulnerable children and children with additional learning needs, said: “I have always enjoyed being creative and have dreamed of writing short children’s stories and illustrating them for a long time.
“I never imagined that the first story I would write would be about a pandemic, but in times of so much change and uncertainty I found myself thinking of the many children I’ve supported over the years through transitions and how challenging this would be for so many.
“Children often find change particularly challenging, and with the changes approaching us as we begin to return to school, with it may come a mix of emotions and feelings. Stories are a natural way for children to learn about their feelings, to help them learn that their experiences of feeling worried or nervous about returning to school are faced by many.
“This story focuses on the familiar, particularly around relationships, as sometimes feelings of anxiety come from the unknown, and while we may not know everything about what school will look like in the coming months, by thinking of some of the things that will be staying the same, we can help our children feel more secure.”
The council’s translation team has translated the story into Welsh, and the council has arranged to print copies to put into the county’s primary schools.
Executive Board Member for Education and Children’s Services Cllr Glynog Davies said: “This is a wonderful story which I am sure will help a lot of children feeling uncertain about returning to school.
“I would like to both congratulate and thank Rachel; I am delighted that the book will be going into our primary schools for pupils to enjoy.”
The story is also available on the council website carmarthenshire.gov.wales/education for parents to download and read with their children.
Video link: https://vimeo.com/432814176
Successful first week back for Carmarthenshire schoolchildren
MORE than 10,000 children have checked in to Carmarthenshire schools so far.
This includes 6,144 primary school children and 4,226 secondary school pupils, according to council figures for last week.
Some pupils have attended school more than once – with the total number of check-ins for last week exceeding 14,000.
There are approximately 28,000 pupils registered in Carmarthenshire schools and these figures show around 38% of pupils attended school last week.
All pupils are being given the opportunity to check in, catch up and prepare before the summer holidays and the new school year in September.
Schools across the county have reported that both staff and pupils have been happy to return, and that safety measures that had been put in place have been a success.
Children have been split into smaller groups and schools are operating staggered break times, and start and finish times. There are also separate entrances and exits, and one-way systems where possible to help with social distancing.
High touch surfaces are being cleaned regularly throughout the school day, with a full clean taking place every evening. There are hand-sanitisers in every classroom and portable handwashing stations where needed.
Children are being encouraged to safely walk, cycle or scoot to school, or for parents to provide transport, as school transport is operating at a limited capacity.
School meals are not being provided this term and pupils who are in school for a full day are being asked to bring in a packed lunch.
Headteacher of Llangunnor Primary School Aled Davies said: “Being able to greet pupils back this week has been exciting. Seeing them smile and as they saw their friends and staff was wonderful. It has been a strange time for us all and the school building looks rather different than it did three months ago, I would like to thank the staff for their hard work and dedication in preparing the school.
“I think we were all, children, parents and staff, a bit apprehensive on Monday but the new measures and routines have worked successfully and has allowed us to welcome the children back in a safe and organised manner. The atmosphere during the week has been welcoming and comfortable with all the children eager to share their stories and experiences and having a lovely day.
“A very high percentage of our families have decided to send their children back and we have been able to fulfil the Welsh Government’s aspiration that all statutory age pupils have an opportunity to return for three sessions in school before the summer break.”
Headteacher of Ysgol Dyffryn Taf in Whitland Julian Kennedy said: “The return of pupils to Dyffryn Taf has been a great experience. Staff and pupils have been delighted to see each other again.
“Everyone has worked incredibly hard to build a safe, inclusive and positive learning environment, all whilst maintaining a distance learning programme.
“Pupils have been able to check in with form tutors, get reassurance and advice, and make sure they are ready for whatever September might bring.
“Most importantly though, we have given staff the freedom to be creative and to try new things. Our pupils have been learning on screens for three months now – when they are on site, we want them to do something different. So, as well as maintaining their literacy, numeracy and wellbeing, pupils have been out in the fresh air orienteering, playing team-building games or simply building up their skills and fitness on Just Dance!
“Attendance has been really pleasing and everyone, both staff and pupils, have left with a smile on their faces. We very much hope we can devote one or two days at the start of the new academic year to finish the transition programme for Year 6 pupils that we were unable to complete this summer.
“The Governing body, staff, pupils and their families and the local authority have combined excellently to achieve a huge amount in a short space of time. We all want to get back to normal as soon as it is safe to do so, but until then we are delighted with how the ‘new normal’ is going.”
Children that are shielding or are living with someone in this group should not come back this term and should continue learning at home.
Parents who choose not to send their children back will not be fined and will also continue to receive support with home learning.
Term finishes on July 17.
Executive Board Member for Education and Children’s Services Cllr Glynog Davies said: “I am delighted that pupils and staff have had such a great first week back at school. I think it is really important that they have had this opportunity to catch up before the summer holidays.
“I visited Ysgol Brynaman and it was wonderful to see how pleased the children were to be back seeing their friends and teachers for the first time in over three months.
“We have already started to plan for September and as soon as we have further guidance from Welsh Government, we will be able to share these details with parents.”
Back to school song competition
CALLING all budding Ed Sheeran’s and Ariana Grande’s – it’s time to put your songwriting skills to the test!
Council leader and composer Cllr Emlyn Dole has written a song especially to welcome children back to school following the coronavirus pandemic.
Mynd ‘nôl i’r Ysgol is about the excitement of going back to school to catch up with teachers and friends, and all the fun the children will have when they are there.
The song has been recorded by popular Welsh singer Gwenda Owen from Pontyberem, who is also Cllr Dole’s wife.
Cllr Dole is asking Carmarthenshire primary school pupils for their help to finish it by writing another verse.
The winning pupils will have the opportunity to sing and record the song in a studio with Gwenda at the start of the new school year in September.
Cllr Dole said: “It has been a difficult time for everyone over the last few months, but particularly for our children who have been home from school and missing their friends and teachers.
“We wanted to celebrate their return to school, and I wrote this song to welcome them back and everything they have to look forward to.
“It wasn’t our intention to turn it into a competition at first, but then we had the idea to challenge our primary schools to write another verse.
“I am really excited to see what the children come up with and I would like to wish everyone the best of luck, but most importantly to please just have fun.”
Information on how to enter the competition has been sent to all primary schools in Carmarthenshire. The deadline for entries is Friday, July 17 and the winner will be announced at the start of the autumn term.
Video link: https://vimeo.com/434292752
Funding package of £3 million to support ‘digitally excluded’ learners
SCHOOLCHILDREN in Carmarthenshire will benefit from a funding package of £3 million to support ‘digitally excluded’ learners in Wales during the coronavirus pandemic.
Education Minister Kirsty Williams made the announcement as part of Welsh Government’s ‘Stay Safe. Stay Learning’ programme.
A digitally excluded learner is someone who does not have access to a suitable internet-connected device to take part in online learning activities from home.
The funding will be used to provide digitally excluded learners with repurposed school devices and 4G MiFi connectivity. Replacement devices will also be funded for schools out of the wider Hwb infrastructure programme.
In Carmarthenshire, schools have already started contacting parents and carers to identify digitally excluded learners, and the council’s IT department are identifying devices which can be repurposed with up-to-date software.
To date, more than 500 families who require further assistance with access to learning have been identified, with some further work to be carried out over the next week.
Executive Board Member for Education and Children’s Services Cllr Glynog Davies said: “We welcome this extra funding from Welsh Government to provide families with the support they need so that their children can continue to learn. No child should be left behind because they do not have access to a computer or broadband.
“This is a huge logistical effort and colleagues from across the council are working together to deliver this support for families as quickly as possible.
“I would like to thank the schools for working hard with us on this, we have already made a good start; and I would also like to thank parents for their patience, support and understanding whilst we put this into place.”
The council’s Education and Children’s Services department have put together a Distance Learning Plan which sets out the way forward for learning in Carmarthenshire during the coronavirus outbreak.
The main aim is to mitigate the impact of school closures on our children and young people as far as possible so that they can quickly catch up when schools reopen; and access to learning and connectivity is one of the key priorities.
Carmarthenshire’s Distance Learning Plan can be found on the ‘Information and support for Parents’ page on the council website, visit newsroom.carmarthenshire.gov.wales/coronavirus
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