Sunday, September 13, 2020

First Day of School 2020

Serafina started her last year of infantil (sort of like doing Kindergarten and 1st grade in three years) last week.  She started 5 años on September 10, 2020.  As with all three years of infantil, she is will the same kids and same teacher as last year so she was very (VERY) excited to go back to see her friends and her seño.

The beginning of this school year obviously looked a lot different thanks to the pandemic being caused by COVID-19.  All summer we had heard rumors that Spanish schools would go back in person -- I feel like this is a good consolation prize for enduring one of the world's strictest lock downs in the spring.  As the start date approached and we still hadn't heard much, we all got a little worried (both my American friends who send their kids to Spanish school and also the parents in Serafina's class).  

Finally the week before school started, we had a mandatory meeting with all the parents (of course we were told with less than a day's notice) to go over the new procedures and how to keep everyone safe while going back to school during a pandemic.  Despite the lack of notice, I thought the school did a good job -- separating the meetings by class, requiring social distancing, masks and such.  It was easily one of the most confusing meetings I had sat through in our time in Spanish schools.  Understanding Spanish is hard enough but behind a mask, it is next to impossible.  Then add in social distancing and I was so so SO lost.  Luckily one parent kept sending the group chat a play by play of the meeting so I was able to piece together all that was taking place.

There were quite a few changes taking place.  First, staggered starts for the school (Serafina now goes to school from 9:30 to 2:30 which is super weird since I have been so used to the 9:00 to 2:00 schedule).  Typically only one gate is used for everyone to enter and exit the school however now all the various gates are open to use (and each classroom has a specific gate they are required to use).  In the morning, kids walk into the school by themselves and go line up, no parents allowed (teachers and other helpers are there to direct the kids) and in the afternoon, parents enter the school and stand on a dot to wait for their child come to them, all socially distanced.  Only one family member is allowed to bring the child(ren) to/from school each day and parents aren't allowed to loiter around before or after school.  Masks are required for all children when not inside their classroom and we must send a clean extra mask each day.  Reusable water bottles are required, only one class goes to recess at a time, kids eat in their classrooms for snack, specialist teachers aren't rotating classes -- I am sure I am missing many things but they seem to have done a good job creating the "bubble" or pod type system that many countries and schools are using.

Overall, I feel really good about all the procedures the school and government have put in place.  I know it is not an easy decision to make and as a teacher and parent, I know that everyone is doing the best they can.  A lot of parents seem to be upset that more precautions are not being taken.  In Spain, it is illegal to not send your child to school starting when they are 6 years old (infantil is optional but the other grades are not).  So from what I have heard, parents are mad that they are being forced to send their children to school or risk fines, homeschooling does not exist here.  I will not speak one way or the other on it, each country and place has different systems and rules and they do what works for them.  But for us, as a family -- we are very happy that Serafina is back learning in the classroom and we feel that it is best for us.  

UPDATE 9/17/2020

Well, we aren't even a week into school and I needed to update!  SO much happened within the first three days of school, it was a little crazy.  And VERY hard to keep up with -- all the translating.  So, the first two days of school were optional for lack of a better term (it was like a parent directed strike to show the school/city that the parents wanted more safety measures put in place and that they shouldn't be fined for not sending their kids to school).  We choose to send Serafina to school because it was best for her.  THEN we got notice that Serafina's amazing teacher was considered high risk so her doctor released her from work -- so basically she is no longer Serafina's teacher and we have no idea if or when she can come back.  To say I was heartbroken was an understatement.  AND now there is another strike, this time with the teachers (I think) and it goes until October 16th.  But you can still send your kids to school which is what we are doing because again it is best for Serafina.  We have no idea who her teacher will be, and so far she has had a different teacher everyday this week :(  I would say only about half the class is going which works for me -- lower ratios!  Overall, Serafina is still very much enjoying going to school and we know that it is best for her.  Who knows what will happen with this school year but it is shaping up to be quite the adventure!

Monday, August 3, 2020

Life Lately Round 12

Well it has been a little over a month since I last updated everyone on our life here in Spain...  When we left off, the state of alarm was lifted and things went back to the "new normal" which for a few weeks looked a lot like the old normal.  Our sleepy beach town came alive with all the tourists as if there was no pandemic and it has worried us.  Restaurants and bars are packed, people are out and about -- but at least the beaches are being patrolled.

Of course all the tourists mean the numbers of COVID cases are rising yet again -- back into the 1000s of new positive cases daily but this time no shutdowns are happening (yet).  Various regions throughout Spain have gone back to some of the earlier phases but nothing like the strict lock down of March and April (thank goodness).  We get a new update from the base almost weekly of areas within Spain or Europe we can't travel to due to increase in case numbers.  And coming from Spain, quite a few countries have shut their borders to us.  

In early July our region made a stricter mandate for masks -- basically all the time you are outside your home or not with your family.  So even walking to the grocery store by myself, I have to wear a mask.  Walking Serafina to camp, I have to wear a mask.  Taking the trash out, mask on.  Luckily the mandate doesn't require (but does encourage) masks for kids under the age of 6 so we don't make Serafina wear one unless she is inside a store -- especially with her asthma, it is better for her if she isn't in a mask.

Speaking of her asthma, we saw the pediatric pulmonologist in Jerez (so a Spanish doctor) at the end of June and he was amazing (and spoke perfect English which made it easier for all of us).  He was just as shocked as we all are that her breathing issues only started in early March.  He switched up her inhaler (this is now switch number three in just about as many months) and wants to get some lung tests as well as allergy testing done.  Because of COVID, we have had a hard time scheduling her testing but we hope to have it done by the end of August.  And the inhaler switch has helped A LOT so that has been good.  
Camps started up again for kids, with more limited spaces and more safety/health precautions in place.  We decided to sent Serafina to camp since she desperately needed social interactions with kids and to practice her Spanish -- and it is the same camp she went to last year so we knew it was amazing.  They have temperature checks at pick up and drop off, lots of hand washing...  The teachers wear masks or face guards (or both).  But the kids are able to be together and run and play.  They aren't doing the same activities as they did last summer, but she is still having fun and that is all that matters.
We have been able to enjoy time with friends, going to the beach and out to eat.  We all carry masks everywhere and I have ours stashed by the door on hooks so we grab one each time we leave the house.  We are still hanging out with the same few families and friends over and over again, keeping our circle small and trying not to take any unnecessary risks.  We have had a few friends travel within Spain and Portugal in early July but now that things are slowly shutting down again, we feel like we missed our opportunity to travel.  But that is fine with us -- we are just so thankful Spain took things seriously the first go around so we can get out of the house and actually enjoy our summer and let Serafina play with friends. 

As of right now, both the base school and Spanish schools are planning on having in-person instruction starting this school year.  We enrolled Serafina in both just to keep our options open. Our first choice is to keep her in Spanish school but distance learning in Spanish is a little (A LOT) challenging for all of us.  So keep your fingers crossed things stay okay and we get to send our sweet girl to Spanish school in September.    

And that is really it -- hopefully my next update is just as boring!

Friday, June 19, 2020

COVID-19 Quarantine Updates (Final Update)

Over the past month or more, the country of Spain and our small province of Cadiz has begun to slowly loosen restrictions to create our "new normal" -- which basically means the continuing of social distancing, not gathering in large groups and wearing face masks.  Our entire territory of Andalucia has moved into Phase 3 which is the final phase of things loosening up.  And thankfully the numbers within our region and the entire country seem to have stayed low.  

If you need a refresher on our past weeks -- week one here and week two here and week three here and week four here and week five here and week six here and week seven here and week eight here and week nine here and week ten here and week eleven here.

The estado de alarma is set to expire for real this time on June 21st so in two days (and it will not be not extended).  Since March 14th the Spanish government has been voting to extend it every two weeks The state of alarm allowed the central Madrid government to take control of all of the territories (sort of like if the American federal government had taken control of the states).  Once the state of alarm expires, the territories then resume control over what happens with COVID and such.  As of now, we haven't heard if or how things will change once the state of alarm ends but we are fairly certain things will stay the same as Phase 3.  

And as the weeks go on, I feel more and more like we are back to "normal" -- you know, other than wearing masks everywhere, no school for Serafina...  But Trevor is working full-time again and Serafina and I are home each day trying not to lose our minds!  We are doing just fine, but the days sure are long.  Some summer camps are opening up but no word on the amazing camp that Serafina went to last year yet -- I am hoping and praying and crossing all of my fingers and toes.  I have hired a babysitter to watch Serafina a few days a week to give us both a break from each other and to have Serafina keep practicing her Spanish.  And even better, the babysitter will watch Serafina in her own home so I get to be ALONE in the house for the first time in way too long.  However, of course, I find myself running around like a crazy person getting all the errands done without having to drag Serafina around.  We have been able to do some fun activities with friends as well -- going to a local small farm to learn about planting vegetables and Serafina went for a one day camp they had.  She had a blast and came home exhausted and covered in dirt. 

The beaches are open with social distancing and even the pop up beach bars (called chirinquitos) are being built which makes me really happy because it means things are slowly going back...  My girlfriends and I have been going to our favorite restaurants every Friday night which has been so amazing.  Most are very small and local so it has been fun seeing the owners and chefs we have gotten to know over the years.  And also we are so happy to be together and supporting the local economy.  

It has also been amazing seeing friends.  While we continue to see the same friends over and over, it has been so good for all of us.  Although the goodbyes after playdates have been very hard on Serafina.  We are noticing that this season of change has been hard on the kids, adults too even.  For so long the kids were told they couldn't do anything because of COVID so Serafina and a lot of her friends have been struggling with now being allowed to do things.... But we are working on it and keep talking about how the virus is slowly going away and such.  

More and more people are arriving in our small beach town for the summer so it makes us all a little nervous but also happy to see people enjoying their lives again.  Borders still aren't open within the countries in Europe, but they will start opening up on June 21st -- with only countries from the European Union (and the Portugal border won't open until July 1st).  We still aren't sure if we will travel this summer -- depends on a lot of things.  We hope to at least be able to take a road trip around Spain but we are also being realistic.  At this point we are perfectly happy to spend some time enjoying our small town, the beach and friends!

Saturday, May 30, 2020

COVID-19 Quarantine Updates (Week 11)

I really don't know when I will end these updates -- maybe when the estado de alarma is finally lifted (which I believe is set to happen at the end of June).  But it is not ending in the next two weeks, so you have at least have two more of these as the government agreed to yet another estado de alarma which was expected.  The state of alarm allows for the slow reopening of everything, so it makes sense to continue it as needed.  Because from what I understand, as long as the state of alarm is in place, the government can mandate the slow opening of things (which is a good thing).    

A few people asked how eating out was so I thought I would touch a little on what it is like...  Two weeks ago we entered into Phase 1 which meant restaurants could open with many precautions and only for outdoor seating at 30% capacity.  One of our favorite restaurants opened up in Rota so a small group of girlfriends and I made reservations to finally go out and eat dinner.  At the restaurant, we obviously sat outside at a table that had been completely disinfected, including the chairs (everything was cleaned after a table was done eating).  There was only one menu, taped to the table in order to easily disinfect.  Waiters wore gloves + mask, but we did not wear masks at the table (seeing as we were eating and all).  Many places have fully closed their indoor access (including bathrooms) -- this restaurant did allow us inside to pay but hand sanitizer was placed outside the door, one person in at a time and of course masks on.  It felt so good to get out but also still so weird....  

If you need a refresher on our past weeks -- 
week one here and week two here and week three here and week four here and week five here and week six here and week seven here and week eight here and week nine here and week ten here.

We officially entered (our small province at least) into Phase 2 on Monday.  Basically it means more places can open up -- all at reduced capacity (nothing over 50%), we can gather in groups of up to 15 AND the beaches in our town have opened again but social distancing is still required everywhere as well as masks are required whenever you can't socially distance.  Our family will still keep our groups smaller and will continue to make choices that best keep our family safe and healthy, but I also trust that the Spanish government is doing a wonderful job at safely opening up the country.  Numbers continue to be the low, and our small province of Cadiz saw three days in a row with NO new cases (or hospitalizations or deaths -- very good news).  

We also ventured out as a family for the first time this week, something we used to do all the time.  It felt really normal but also really hard because it was so obvious of the world we are now living in -- social distancing, masks, gloves, etc.  We went to Jerez (the closest larger city) to do some shopping for needed items that we have been unable to find online (or that won't actually get to us anytime soon).  Sadly, Serafina has gotten really used to wearing her mask, using hand sanitizer and not touching anything outside our house -- we have really drilled it in to her.  We are explaining things in a way that makes sense for her (and often taking her lead when she comes up with reasons why we have to wear masks or gloves), but also teaching her that this may be the new normal for awhile so she needs to learn the new way of life.  We have been really impressed with her abilities to adapt but we can also see the toll it is taking on her, not being in school, not being around kids each day and figuring out how all of these new changes affect her and more...  
Each phase  lasts a minimum of two weeks, so moving into next week we won't have any new things loosening or whatnot.  We are hoping to get to the beach as a family one of these days if the weather cooperates (it has not been cooperating -- so SO windy).  So now it is just getting used to this new normal and hoping things keep going in the right direction of lower and lower case numbers each day...

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