Tuesday, November 24, 2009
From what we hear from the States, it seems that swine flu is a big thing in the news there right now. It's certainly a big thing here in Taiwan, and although it's widespread, the Taiwanese are taking great precautions to try to keep it under control.
For a couple of months now, Morrison has been requiring everyone (students, parents, teachers, janitors - everyone!) to get their temperature taken before entering campus in the morning (see picture below). Anyone with a fever is immediately sent home, and everyone without one is given a little colored sticker to wear on their shirt all day (a different color each day). If we see anyone at school without a sticker, we're supposed to remind them to go to the nurse and get their temperature checked right away. Many public places (churches, the zoo, etc.) have been doing temperature checks as well, and requiring everyone to take a squirt of hand sanitizer before coming in.
You'd think that with those precautions H1N1 would have been kept at bay, but a couple weeks ago we got word that three high schoolers on our campus had come down with it. They (and their families or roommates) were quarantined their homes or dorm rooms for five days, while the rest of the school prayed and hoped no one else would come down with it. All the elementary teachers breathed a sigh of relief that it hadn't been elementary students who got sick, because the government regulations are stricter for elementary. If two or more students in the same class get swine flu, the whole class has to be closed and every student in it (and the teacher) must go through the five-day quarantine. Morrison has a system in place (and we've all been trained in it) whereby we would teach our lessons over the internet if that ever happened.
Everyone keeps saying that it's not a matter of if, it's when, and yet somehow we've all managed to assume such a thing would only happen to other teachers' classes. But - not any more.
When I came to school this last Friday, I received the bad news that one of my students had been diagnosed with H1N1. Not a serious case, thankfully, but the first in the elementary school, and of course it was worrying. I had a total of three students absent that day, and I couldn't help wondering what the chances were that either of the others had it and just didn't know it yet.
Well, the principal came by my classroom in the middle of the day, and sure enough, he had more bad news. The office had just received a call from the parent of one of my other absentees, and it was confirmed that she had H1N1 too. Now the office was about to call all my students' parents to come and pick them up, and I had about forty minutes to prepare the kids to continue school from their homes for the next several days. Yikes!
To make a long story short, I told my students the news, gave them a quick refresher course in how online education is supposed to work, explained the afternoon's work which they'd have to complete at home, handed out several worksheets for the next few days and a hastily-written letter from the office explaining the situation, got them to pack up most of their textbooks, workbooks, and notebooks; made sure each student had an adequate supply of lined paper (not easily available in Taiwan except through the school), and answered about fifty frantic questions (everything from "Am I still allowed to fly to China next week with my family if I'm quarantined?" to "Will my hamster get H1N1 too?") and finally let in the parents who were congregating outside the classroom door waiting to take their kids home.
For most of the students, the worst part (once they heard that their sick classmates were doing all right) was that they would have to miss that evening's concert. The Elementary Thanksgiving Concert had been in the works for months, and though it featured mainly the kindergarteners through second graders singing, all of my students are in either the band, orchestra, or choir, which were scheduled to perform afterwards. Several students went home in tears that their hard work and all those hours of practice would be for nothing; they were not even allowed to come back to watch. I couldn't watch, either, being quarantined myself; but I heard that the concert was only half as long as usual. The band director was quarantined too, since his daughter (in my class) was one of the swine flu cases; and apparently the orchestra and choir directors decided they couldn't perform with so many students missing. What a disappointment for the whole elementary school.
So now my students and I are all stuck in our respective homes, though I'm supposed to go back to work tomorrow (shut in my classroom, staying away from everyone else) to teach from my computer there. I will be communicating with my kids and their parents through email and "Moodle" (Morrison's online education system), which I'm sure will be an interesting challenge. I'll have to post lessons and assignments, answer their questions, grade completed work, give students feedback, and even take attendance, all online.
The good thing is, we'll only really have to do that for two days. Monday and Tuesday are regular school days, but Wednesday is a half day with a special program in the morning, so I wouldn't really have had to teach in any case. And we have Thursday and Friday off for American Thanksgiving, though the quarantine would have ended after Wednesday anyway. So, all things considered, if this had to happen, it's about the best possible timing (except for the concert).
Of course, I have to remind myself that just because this is happening to my class now doesn't mean it will never happen again. An individual may be immune to swine flu after having had it once, but my class isn't immune to being closed again just because we've done it once! I can only hope and pray that it won't happen again (or to any other classes), but that if it does, we'll all be prepared.