Boarding school houseparent: ‘It was difficult to see them leave so suddenly’

Usually at this time of the year the role of houseparent is full on, but as Lomond School’s houseparent, Kate Griffin, explains, now the boarding house is quiet

I have worked at Lomond School as a houseparent for the last two years, looking after over 40 pupils from across the world who stay on the premises at the Burnbrae boarding house.

At the start of lockdown, most of the children living in the boarding house returned home – whether that was to the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, England or further afield to Hong Kong, Bangladesh, Brazil or central and south-east Europe.

For a couple of students who were unable to travel home due to restrictions, I was able to arrange a home stay for them to be able to enjoy family time like everyone else. Home stay families are those who have a connection with Lomond School, such as families of current or past pupils and live in the local area. I had to go into a two-week isolation ahead of lockdown after escorting a boarding pupil to Heathrow Airport to allow her to fly home safely to her family in Hong Kong.

In a way, you very much think of the children as your own; they are your responsibility and you want what is best for them. It was difficult to see them leave so suddenly and fly home all over the world. I was involved in helping with all travel arrangements and was in close contact with their parents along the way.

A different role

Usually at this time of year the role of houseparent is full on, as the exam period arrives, pupils prepare to graduate and the majority of boarders get ready to leave Helensburgh for the summer holidays.

My three sons are now grown up, living in Dubai, Glasgow and Dublin, and I have taken on the responsibility for the day-to-day running of the boarding house and the daily welfare of pupils. If there are any issues concerning the boarders I am always on hand and free to talk. I take pride in sharing their successes but I’m also there to support if things do not always go to plan.

The feeling of the children completely leaving the boarding house was similar to the quietness that descended when my sons moved away from home, except this time it is on a much larger scale.

Most day-to-day decisions are made by myself and my assistant houseparent. These include house situations and managing areas such as signing out, discipline, trips, house meetings and committees. As well as internal house responsibilities, I am the representative for the boarders in the wider school community, highlighting the role and efforts of the boarding pupils across the school.

“I had to go into a two-week isolation ahead of lockdown after escorting a boarding pupil to Heathrow Airport to allow her to fly home safely to her family in Hong Kong”

No two days are ever the same in the boarding house, although currently Burnbrae is so quiet. I really miss the energy of the children, there is a sense of loss at the moment, however, it has been great to keep in touch with them virtually. I am having to readjust and learn to scale down my cooking as I am used to cooking meals for an exceptionally large family of 40 children.

I am also a biology and science teacher in the school, therefore pupils can see me during and after school.

The early stages of isolation were challenging as the uncertainty was being felt globally, although everyone pulled together and showed tremendous solidarity and adaptability. Spirits were kept high with things like card games being played, and students completed painting a giant boarding house mural of life at Lomond School.

Kate Griffin is a houseparent and looks after 40 pupils from across the world at Lomond School

Extra support

Ahead of lockdown the school put measures in place to transition to online learning. During this time, the school was able to prepare teachers and maintain regular communication with pupils and parents, which really helped relieve anxiety.

Our pupils are working hard and have adapted well to their new environment, whether that is locally or from the other side of the world. We have found that personal connection has been key in ensuring the necessary sense of belonging to the class and the school community.

I continue to check up on all the boarders who are usually in my care, to be there as extra support for the pupils and their parents. Some families do not have the language skills to assist in the online lessons as they are taught in English, therefore I will try to accommodate various levels of assistance across different time zones. Lomond’s teachers are also available live on screen in the virtual classroom for every period at least at the start of the lesson to help reassure pupils and support them through home learning.

For the time being my routine comes from looking after my two labradoodles – Finbarr and Bertie. There are fabulous walks on my doorstep and the dogs have been keeping my spirits up.

I look forward to the children returning when this is all over. Not only do you build a relationship with the boarders but also with their parents as you are part and parcel of what goes on inside and outside of school life. It will be great to have everyone back at Lomond when it is safe to do so.

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