The last year of school is a memorable milestone in most of our lives but for the cohort of students preparing for their HSC exams now, 2020 will definitely rank among the unforgettable!
The fires last year were already a big, and for some, a very stressful distraction. And now we have the unseen deadly threat of COVID-19 with its lockdowns, remote learning and social distancing.
Yesterday (Tuesday) Macksville High School students Taylor Adair, Elouise Ennis, Solomon Hill and Annalise Robertson talked to the Guardian News about how they were feeling about the swirl of change surrounding them right now ...
How was the transition to remote learning for you?
Elouise jumped in first saying that initially she found it quite difficult as it was so sudden and unexpected.
"It took a while to adjust to having to be self-motivated and not having a teacher there pushing you," Elouise said.
Annalise said it was eye-opening how quickly 'normal' changed.
"It was a totally different environment, having no peers and no teachers - I never realised how important the social aspect of school is to help motivate you," she said.
For Solomon, with the wisdom of hindsight, if he had to do it again he would make sure he separated his work space from the rest of life in some way:
"I didn't mind the remote learning but my room was the focus of everything - I'd try to mix it up a bit more if it happened again."
Taylor's experience was not so positive.
"We don't have great internet where I live, so that made it difficult. I also found it challenging to isolate myself from all the distractions around me ... with online I found the motivation to study was not there," Taylor said.
How do you think this has affected your HSC preparations?
"I found I lost content online ... I didn't do the work and what I did I found much harder to retain," Taylor continued.
"I feel that I missed a chunk of the syllabus and when I come to revising I will look at it and wonder 'what on earth is this?'.
"It has got better since we came back to school because the teachers have helped us with a study guide and told us what are the more important things to focus on."
We have had to learn some really important life lessons, such as being patient and taking things as they comeAnnalise Robertson
Annalise said that in some ways this year's cohort of HSC students had been advantaged, having free access to resources, which would otherwise have to be paid for.
"Some of the resources such as HSC Study Lab and Edrolo are expensive but this year we've been given free access to them - I appreciate that."
Elouise said she also appreciated the blocks of extra learning now available to students on a Wednesday, a day that was previously a day off for Year 12.
Solomon added he thought the online skills they were learning were awesome and would not have happened had face-to-face teaching continued as normal.
"Of course, you'd be crazy not to feel a bit stressed ... but it is what it is, we are all affected," he said.
How are you feeling about your job and study prospects next year?
Scary also is the thought of what lies ahead ...
Elouise put it this way:
"There are so many unknowns with the coronavirus and the lockdowns and that is scary. I am lucky, I have a job at KFC and I know that will continue, so I feel safe.
"My plan is to go to uni and study business, majoring in marketing, hopefully in Newcastle or Canberra. I'll have to see what happens with that ... I honestly haven't thought too much about it yet.
"I did have a trip to Hawaii planned - cancelling that has been disappointing."
For Taylor the prospect of uni with no face-to-face contact is "terrifying".
"I know that being around people helps me retain information and motivates me ... I simply don't get as much out of online," Taylor said.
"So for me there is the risk of failure or dropping out ... and it is so much money.
"My plans to study to be a midwife at Queensland Uni have gone out the window - hopefully I can start at a local uni such as Southern Cross and then transfer later."
Solomon said he was feeling "pretty OK with it all".
"I live in Scotts Head, which I love, so I am not in a hurry to leave home. I planned to take a year off and get experience - I work at Woolworths, which is an essential service plus I do labouring, so I am not worried about employment," he said.
"If I go to uni it will have to be something physical, possibly in sports health. I really am not too sure."
Annalise said her plan had been to go to Sydney Uni to study veterinary science.
"I hope that can still happen. I do find the prospect of that a bit scary, moving from the country to the city - COVID does add to that anxiety."
Ever the optimist, she said the challenges of the year had helped everyone mature.
"We have had to learn some really important life lessons, such as being patient and taking things as they come ... that will be helpful in the future."