WHILE it may not be earth shattering, the return to school this week for primary aged students is big news as they begin what is hoped to be an uninterrupted year of learning.
The kids at Ranfurly Primary were excited to be back and for the new prep kids, it was a big day for them and their families. Principal Dennis Mitchell said he was confident the year would go smoothly and without disruption.
“It looks to me like we have a real plan to not interrupt kids this year − it really looks that way to me,” he said.
“Yes, it’s going to be a little bit difficult to manage at times, if we have an outbreak, or some close contacts and positive cases.
“In that instance, kids will isolate with their families, but it won’t shut a classroom down hopefully.
“And so it looks like being business as usual in the main unless the government pivots in a different direction.
Otherwise it looks like our home learning structures are done with.
“The big question for us is staffing. We have had some people away with COVID in the first two days of school. If we were to have a rolling effect on staff that would be a massive concern and that goes for all of us in education not just Ranfurly.”
While the pandemic has been disruptive for all school students, primary aged kids, particularly those in Grade Prep and Grades 1 and 2, have felt the impact with their writing skills being held back in many cases during the home schooling.
Mr Mitchell was asked what impacts remote learning had on the students in the last two years and he cited the impact on writing skills an area of major concern.
“Collectively across the state and for us, writing is a concern,” he said.
“In fact, it’s a concern nationally if you look at the data, and so I would say writing is the area of greatest impact.
“Writing is very teacher directed and is very cumulative, it takes support and workshopping, it takes application and monitoring. And that was almost impossible to do well at home.
“Whereas with mathematics it’s sequential and there are a lot of great online platforms that were able to be used, reading similarly.
“So we will see what that outcome looks like over the next couple of years, particularly in regard to those little ones.
“I have a student who is going into Grade 2 for example, who spent most of Grade Prep and Grade 1 in and out of home learning.
“Their accumulation of learning in those first couple of years is potentially diminished particularly in writing and spelling.”
Mr Mitchell also said that while children are resilient, there was no doubt there were emotional impacts on some over the course of the last two years.
“What we found at Ranfurly and I’m not sure about other schools, is that the kids found it tricky to differentiate between home and school behaviour,” he said.
“The kids are beautiful at school but what we found is that home of that at home behaviour, where at times they are not so well behaved, began to creep in to the classroom because they were stop and starting.
“We also saw some kids really drop off-the-radar emotionally and disconnect and that is really dangerous.
“We have thought long and hard about how we reintroduce kids back into school this ear.
“We traditionally do a program called SmartStart which runs over three to five school days and we have rebuilt that to be an extended one and it has a huge focus on ‘I’m okay at school’.
“It asks what kindness and goodwill look like at school, how to be a learner at school and also to get the kids back into a routine.
“That is about building emotional resilience and capacity for them to be back in the classroom and having them remembering that this is the way school is and that home stuff is home.
“The way you talk to your brother at home is not the way you talk to your mate at school.”
The teaching staff at Ranfurly have learned how to adapt to the disruption that came with COVID, something Mr Mitchell said hadn’t been easy.
“By June 2020 it was really complex and we were literally waiting to see what the next rollout of processes were for us to react to,” he said.
“We started talking about getting back to normal, but that was emotionally upsetting people, because they sort of felt like it was over when it wasn’t.
“Therefore we had to change that language and focus on getting on with things and that is where we are now.”
Mr Mitchell said he had felt the strain of the pandemic and the changes it caused to school life.
“It’s been very hard actually,” he said.
“Toward the end of last year we had an outbreak at the school and the contact tracing was just horrendous and we had to manage that and it was pretty taxing.
“There were about five schools in the district who were in the same boat as us running up to Christmas.
“We had a lot of families who were forced to isolate over that period of time into Christmas which was devastating for all those concerned.
“I think we had been lulled into a false sense of security and that we had moved on and then it hit us pretty hard.”
Ranfurly Primary School Prep teacher and Literacy coordinator Mary Gill said that the start of the school year has been welcomed by everyone in the school’s community.
“Everyone is back and we are super excited to welcome 54 Prep students here this year,” she said.
“We have three Prep classes and five very experienced teachers running our program.”
Ms Gill said that given the last two years had been quite disruptive it is good to hopefully be back for an uninterrupted school year in the classroom.
“We had a brilliant first day on Monday, the kids were really calm and smooth,” she said.
“Full credit to all of the parents for getting them ready for school.
“We are still working through where each of them are in terms of their learning and we will teach them from where they begin.
“It’s all about socialisation at this age and feeling happy within themselves and Ranfurly is the place to do it.”
– JOHN DOOLEY