When the schools were closed on 20 March in the fight against coronavirus Felsted School, Essex, naturally followed the Government’s ruling and shut up shop early. However, the school was left with 13 stranded students – international pupils aged 14 to 18 – unable to return to their home countries due to restrictions, cancelled flights or no available flights at all. What Felsted have amply demonstrated is that being stuck at school is no problem, as it has turned into something of a holiday camp.
Chris Townsend, Felsted’s headmaster, kept the school open for these stranded students unable to travel home to Bermuda, China, Italy, Malawi and Russia, housing them all in one of the school’s boarding houses, with Caolan Wukics, Lewis Mann and Isobel Nicholson making up the team of experienced house staff. Indeed, Alex Lang from Germany said ‘My time staying on at Felsted was amazing; the staff made sure we had a really fun time.’
As the first week of school closure was the last week of term, the stranded students were able to follow the school timetable and complete any work teachers were setting remotely on Google Classroom. However, after the term had ended Felsted had to think outside the box to keep the remaining pupils busy and entertained. Over the past three weeks of the Easter holidays, each day has been split into three different sections, giving structure to the day whilst also appreciating that it is a school holiday period.
Each day has incorporated an academic skills session, leisure time and a social period. After a leisurely start with breakfast, students have had the opportunity each morning to learn new skills and further better themselves. One student decided to start learning French, whilst another started to read books recommended by his previous housemaster. Some of the lower-sixth girls used this time to continue with school work and start preparation for their UKCAT tests. Another student enrolled herself on an online course which will see her earn a diploma in business before starting university in Rotterdam in September.
‘This period of time will absolutely be an unforgettable experience in my life,’ comments Leah Shi, a Felsted pupil from China. ‘I am really appreciative that I spent part of my lockdown time with these amazing people,’ Indeed, each afternoon students have time to relax and recuperate, making fresh bread and cakes, getting creative with art and origami projects and playing board games. Students have been able to make use of the extensive onsite facilities, playing hockey, tennis and taking part in a pilates session run each afternoon. They have also had the pleasure of being able to go on lovely walks around Felsted and evening social activities have ranged from board games, directing mini films, quiz nights, a table tennis tournament, movie night and a pamper night.
‘Operating as a small household, the main aim has been to ensure each students’ wellbeing, health and happiness, and to give them some structure to their day,’ explained Mr Townsend. ‘As such a unique group, everyone has got to know and respect each other really well, blending numerous cultures, languages and experiences in the process. It has been evident that all the students who have had to stay at Felsted have approached this unprecedented situation with maturity and courage, with some having to face challenging journeys in order to get home.’
The staff at Felsted have been unwavering in their support during this time, particularly those in the domestic, works and catering teams who have ensured the students and staff always feel safe, clean and well fed. Members of the school staff have also spent time trying to secure repatriation flights for these students to return home. Of the 13 students, only five remain and Felsted hope to have them secured on flights home very soon.
Felsted has also answered the NHS’ call to arms, offering support by housing a number of training paramedics with the East of England Ambulance Service over the past few weeks. The school has been able to help by offering accommodation to them as they prepared for front line service. Personal protective equipment items have also been donated to Broomfield Hospital and visor production is in the pipeline for the coming weeks.
Felsted is an independent co-educational boarding and day school situated on the Essex/Hertfordshire boarder, educating pupils from the UK and abroad aged 4-18. See Felsted’s School House listing here