Back to school a mixed blessing – and an opportunity

Bri Hines, a member of the Student Executive Advisory Committee and current Year 12 student. Source: VicSRC Instagram
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Students, parents and teachers are taking stock as they prepare to return to the schoolroom from next week. Millicent Spencer talks to some key stakeholders.

Going back to school should be an opportunity to take a fresh look at school schedules and how they operate, one VCE student says.

Year 12 student Bri Hines, a member of the VicSRC student executive committee, said she had enjoyed the independence and flexibility of online learning.

Students have been studying from home for quite a while and had adapted to very different ways of managing their schooling, she said.

“I definitely think this is a really good opportunity to have a general look at how schooling as a whole is.”

She said she knew it had been quite difficult for a number of people, and that it worked best with the privilege of “good internet and a supportive family”.

“[But] there have definitely been a lot of positives and a lot of things to be learnt from this experience that should definitely be applied to schools in the future.

“The whole entirely scheduled school day where you go to classes, and do your work in that time, potentially maybe is not the best way.”

Her school has been doing fewer scheduled online classes. “You can call your teacher at this point, just do your assigned work by the assigned date and that works a lot better for me.”

The return to school felt “very sudden” and there were still uncertainties, Bri said.

“There are still a lot of questions that haven’t been answered about what exams and graduation are going to look like.”

Rhyannon’s son virtually playing chess with his grandad. Photo supplied. 

Students in Prep, Grade 1, Grade 2, VCE, VCAL and children at specialist schools are expected to return to school on May 26, followed by all other students from Years 3-10 on the June 9.

Parent of three school-aged children Rhyannon Elliott said she had enjoyed having her children at home.

“It has been busy and sometimes frustrating but I’m going to really miss them. I’m not looking forward to them going back at all,” Ms Elliott said.

Everyone had a cup of tea together during class breaks, they took walks as a family each morning, shared lunches and baked together, she said.

“That’s going to have to go by the wayside when we go back to school because we will be committing to school.”

Rhyannon Elliott and her family taking their daily walk. Photo supplied

Ms Elliot said she was not concerned about sending her children back to school but was concerned about public transport, which her children rely on heavily as they live 15km from school.

“What I am planning to do is drive and pick them all up,” she said. 

The Victorian Government is encouraging schools to implement a staggered drop-off system to break up the number of students entering the school at one time and to ensure parents do not congregate outside the schools.

Ms Elliott said that the schools had communicated clearly about how the transition would work.

“[My] youngest child’s school has told us about start and finish times and how pick up is going to work,” she said.

“The other two schools have been really clear about who is allowed on the premises.”

Bri said that the older students especially had received a lot of support from teachers in the transition online.

“There needs to be an equal amount of support for transitioning back to school,” she said.

“The main thing that schools need to be doing is talking to students and getting their input into what should be done and what works best for them.”

Australian Education Union Victorian Branch president Meredith Peace welcomed the announcement of the return to school.

“It’s great that we now have some certainty and dates for a return to school, but we must plan that return carefully to ensure the safety of both staff and students,” Ms Peace said.

Meredith Peace the Victorian President for the AEU. Source: AEU 

“Our kids are going to be pretty unsettled when they return to school, they’ve been away from school for a long time,” she said.

“Parents need to understand it is going to be challenging for a while, it won’t look like normal, but I’m sure we’ll get there ultimately.”

All Victorian school staff will be prioritised for voluntary COVID testing for the next two weeks and once they return to school, they will be required to practice social distancing.

The State Government will invest up to $45 million for schools to be cleaned daily during both terms two and three.