A smooth return to the classroom

LAST Tuesday, about 400,000 students returned to classrooms across the state, as part of a staged return to classroom teaching.

School yards that have sat empty for weeks were busy as Preps, Year 1 and 2, Year 11 and 12s and specialist school students arrived back to school.

Locally, most students were grateful to see their friends and teachers, and get stuck into some face-to-face learning again.

Maffra Primary School reported “smooth sailing over the week”, as its junior students returned.

Principal Matt Currie said staff had been pleased by the way the school community adjusted to the new school routines and quickly settled back into school.

“We expected some anxiety from students over the first couple of days, because it has been a big break, but our staff have been supportive in the individual care and attention they have provided for every child,” he said.

“This has been backed up by our parents who have been very mindful of social distancing around school gates at the beginning and end of the day.”

Maffra foundation (prep) students celebrated their return by each taking along a special teddy from home to enjoy a teddy bears’ picnic.

It was a great way for teddies and students to share their experiences of remote learning, and to talk about any nerves they had returning to school.

At Sale College, principal Brendan Staple said it was great to see students back.

“We put a lot of procedures in place for staff on Monday including signage, work space changes to ensure social distancing in every office, backed up with a thorough policy document,” he said.

“All staff have returned to work on both campuses and students in Year 11 and 12 were happy to be back in the classroom environment, with many commenting on how they missed their peers and teachers.

“We had 91 per cent attendance on the first day back, with only five Year 12 students away.

“We greeted all students with a Sale College drink bottle that they could refill instead of using bubblers or creating waste with bottled water.”

Gippsland Grammar students also began a staggered returned to the school’s three campuses.

The school’s Early Learning Centre students as well as foundation, Year 1 and Year 2 students returned to Gippsland Grammar’s Bairnsdale and St Anne’s Sale campuses, while Year 11 and 12, VCE and VCAL students returned to Sale’s Garnsey campus.

Principal Leisa Harper said she was up early to greet students arriving at school on Tuesday, as she began her tenure at the school at the beginning of social distancing restrictions and had not yet met students face-to-face.

“And I was not disappointed; our students were welcomed back with large signs and balloons on the school gates as they arrived, and it was a wonderful day seeing some of our students return,” she said.

“Irrespective of age, all students enjoyed being with their friends again … there was a real buzz of excitement across all three campuses.”

Mrs Harper said a new set of ‘golden rules’ had been introduced, which included hand washing, social distancing and three key messages – be respectful, be compassionate and be responsible.

The school’s staff have also planned for extended cleaning routines, social distancing in offices and hygiene practices.

Markings outside classrooms indicate where students should stand for safe social distancing, water fountains are roped off and students must take their own water bottles.

Sanitising gel is provided for younger students entering the school grounds, and is in each classroom.

Mrs Harper said the school was doing everything it could to provide a safe and happy environment for students and staff.

“Some of our staff remain working from home and the attendance rates for our students at school and those remaining in Learn@Home has been very high,” Mrs Harper said.

“We are currently exploring how some of our COVID-19 experiences might influence our future practice at the school.

“For example, our parent-teacher evenings were held over Zoom presentation, and these were very popular with parents and teachers alike.”

Mrs Harper thanked staff for their commitment to students’ learning and the safety of the community.

Students in Grades 3 to 10 are expected to return to face-to-face learning on June 9, provided the Chief Health Officer deems the return to school by other year levels has limited effect on transmission of coronavirus.

Last week, Education Minister James Merlino congratulated principals, teachers, school staff, students and families for their efforts in making remote learning work, and announced a summit to discuss lessons learnt and investigate what improvements could be made to the education system as a result of the remote learning experience.

The summit will be held in June, following an independent analysis of the experience at schools across the state, bringing together education leaders from the government, Catholic and independent school sectors.

The government is also spending up to $45 million on increased daily cleaning at government schools for the remainder of term two and three.