How our schools are coping in this 'brave new world'

Mr Le Cerf's household adjusts to life at home. Contributed image
Mr Le Cerf's household adjusts to life at home. Contributed image

It's now the second school week since NSW students were told they should stay at home unless they absolutely had to come to school.

Locally our schools are recording attendance rates between five and 10 per cent, with figures fluctuating day to day.

Bowraville Central School principal Dave Taylor said no students came through the gates on Monday morning. It was the same on Tuesday.

"But I'd rather the kids do come in and just touch base - they need to come in if they can," he said.

Scotts Head Public School principal Gillian Stuart said around 10 per cent of their kids were physically attending school - "the majority have parents who are frontline workers".

When we spoke with some of our Valley10 principals this week it was clear the past few weeks had been having a dramatic impact on their staff, students, parents and on them personally.

In a few days education was turned on its head.

Macksville High School principal Erica Lyne

"And we don't know how long this is going to last."

"Noone knows what the future looks like," Dave Taylor said.

"I think it's hard for everyone right now," Nambucca Heads High principal Simon McKinney said.

"But we're all very appreciative we still have jobs. Staff are all doing regular check-ins with one another."

"Most of our kids love coming to school and I think they're struggling. It's certainly an adjustment for parents. But I think people have adapted really well," Gillian Stuart said.

Each school has prepared learning packs for their students, and most have started to transition to online learning via Google Classroom, and other educational apps and websites. Many have also started using Zoom video conferencing for face-to-face learning.

For the Scotts Head crew, this transition has been made smoother with previous online learning experience.

They are an official Bilingual Primary School - one of only four in the state, and the only regional school. Each week students have a four-hour online lesson in either maths, science or physical education (PDHPE) with a teacher in Indonesia, through the Bahasa Indonesia program.

"This is our eleventh year in the program and we've been using Zoom for a couple of years now," Ms Stuart said.

Bowra Central has been trying to "keep things fun". Every day at 3pm a different teacher has been reading a book to students through the magic of Facebook Live.

Watch Mr Watson read 'Pig the Grub':

"I think this was about the kids seeing our faces - we really miss them, so we imagine they might be missing us too. And the stories have been getting quite a few views each day," Mr Taylor said.

They've also been using Facebook to upload examples of how their students are using real-world scenarios to learn the usual syllabus. Today featured a video on 'pancake fractions'.

"And we're going to have our Easter Hat Parade anyway - we're asking students to create their hats at home and upload a photo of themselves. We're trying to keep things positive," Mr Taylor said.

Meanwhile on school grounds, there are fewer teachers now, with "flexible staffing arrangements" in place.

"But we've been struggling to keep staff away - they really want to be here," Mr Taylor said.

Teachers have been trying to keep the team morale up by engaging in working bees: gardening, mowing, painting, and other handyman jobs.

"Everyone loved that - getting stuck in and not having to think about anything," Mr Taylor said.

It's hard to believe there's a crisis when you look out over the beautiful Valley we live in.

But there have been significant challenges, internet connectivity being one of them. Making sure all kids have the same access to learning is a current priority, with the school hoping to receive a package of laptops and wifi dongles this week to share with students most in need.

Week one's focus for NSW schools was transitioning to online and remote learning.

Week two's focus has been about connectivity.

"Staff have each been given a list of students to check in on. Preferably twice a week staff will make contact with each student," Mr McKinney said.

Anecdotally, that phone call has meant a world of difference to many of the school's students and their parents.

Other schools around the Valley are doing the same.

"The biggest issue is disconnect - not seeing friends and losing that connection with the school," Mr McKinney said.

"I want the students to know that this is about their wellbeing and their future. And don't stress - there's more important things at the moment to get through than schoolwork."

He said 2020 will "never be forgotten as an HSC year" but the government has assured this year's cohort of HSC students they will not miss out.

Each principal we spoke with was effusive in praise for their staff.

"There's just so much going on here at the school. Teachers are stepping up in this brave new world," Ms Lyne said.

"They're learning day by day, they're upskilling, exploring new and different ways to teach. We may even keep some of these new ways of learning when everything goes back to normal.

I'm just so proud of everyone and I'm in constant awe of my staff.

Ms Lyne said the feedback she's been receiving is that students are coping well with the changes.

"I'm probably more worried about the parents," she said.

Ms Stuart, too, is concerned about the school's parents.

"As this goes on, I think parents will need more support. Next week that's my focus. I want to check in with each parent before Easter holidays and just make sure they put the books away so they can have a break and be ready for next term," she said.

"Who knows, if the curve flattens we might be back by then."

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