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You can see the smiles behind the masks.

For the first time in three months, students got off the DCB buses, entered the iron gates, and crossed the bridge to see the familiar Dulwich shield on the red building revealing beyond the now green trees. This, of course, was all after a stringent travel history check and a temperature check inside an unfamiliar tent, and a squirt of hand sanitiser to boot.

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Headmaster Simon Herbert stood at the entrance: “What a pleasure it was for me to welcome our Year 13s back. A school can feel quite bleak and empty without students, so it was wonderful to re-open, albeit in a socially distanced way, on Monday the 27th. The students were overjoyed to see their friends, and the atmosphere in the school was immediately brighter and more cheerful!”

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Year 13 student Sophia S described the initial feelings: “After being apart for such a long time from most of my friends, I was nervous about returning to school, with all the new regulations. All that was gone as the school bus was approaching the school building, and I only felt the excitement from that moment on.”

Sofia B had similar feelings: “Being back at school was a bit strange at first.”

“We had to get used to the procedures put in place for social distancing, and that included having one table to myself for lunch. The arrangement of tables was front facing, and it weirdly reminded me of an exam hall,” said Sarah S. Even with the new normal, the students agree that it was good to enjoy the company of their peers again.

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There were fun and practical activities planned for these graduating students. With the IB exams cancelled, they would use this time to relax and reconnect, focus on physical activities, mental wellbeing, closure for this stage of their lives, and preparation for the next stage.

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On offer this week were opportunities for leisure, sport and fitness. There were also university transition workshops getting students to think about adulting and about some tricky scenarios they might encounter when living in a new culture and away from parents for the first time. Alumni from the Class of 2019 were invited online to share their university stories and answer questions.

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For those who want to gain real-world experience, they can participate in remote externships arranged by Dulwich College International. For another worthwhile experience, 15 of our Year 13s will be engaging with Year 10 students as “Learning Mentors” in the weeks ahead.

“The downtime with friends and the university workshops are reminiscent of school prior to the health crisis, so this entire experience has definitely heightened the sense of closure I feel about the senior year,” said Kristal D.

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Speaking of closure, students also used this time to plan their leavers’ experience, including the traditional Leavers’ Assembly so dear to their hearts. It could now be held onsite, in a socially distanced manner, with live streaming for those who cannot be there.

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“Whilst we welcome those who are able to come in, we also send our best wishes to those around the world unable to be back with us right now. Mr Hurworth, Mrs Edwards, the Senior School Leadership Team, as well as DCI, have created a superb onsite/online programme for the Year 13s, and I thank them for all their hard work,” said Mr Herbert.

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Ryan Z appreciated the effort as well: “Although we were initially taken aback by all the social distancing procedures and restrictions, being able to catch up with friends and teachers who we hadn’t seen for months made my back-to-school experience extremely rewarding.”

We eagerly await more rewarding experiences on 11th May, when we welcome back our Year 10s.

In mid-June, we shall be celebrating Year 13’s graduation on campus, in a format that complies with the government health and safety regulations of course.