All smiles as gap year ends
For Fiona Debenham, an enduring image from 10 weeks of remote learning will be a screenful of gappy grins as her year 1 students at St Matthew’s Primary School in Page showed off the teeth they had lost during lockdown.
That was her reward for reassuring her class the Tooth Fairy was an essential worker under the Covid restrictions.
It wasn’t the only reassuring Fiona had to do remotely. Leading up to the return to school, she spent much time managing their expectations. They knew their teacher and adults around the school would be wearing masks, their desks would no longer be in clusters and they would be separated from other classes in the playground.
They were already conditioned to hand washing before the lockdown and Fiona expected them to adapt quickly to hygiene protocols. “You have to remember these kids are only in year 1, so their whole school life has been Covid-affected,” she pointed out. Mostly they were excited about seeing their friends again.
The teachers worked long hours to keep the students engaged via apps such as Teams and Seesaw. “The amount of work the kids have been able to get through is phenomenal,” Fiona said. And activities such as “guess who?” and “would you rather?” games, along with mental-health check-ins, kept them in touch with each other.
Remote lessons had also been enlightening for parents. “Some of them have suddenly understood what you’ve been trying to tell them about their child’s learning,” said Fiona, who has had grateful parents leave chocolate, wine and cards on her doorstep.
The discomfort of wearing a mask all day aside, Fiona was happy to be back in the classroom after the extra-hard work of producing and marking online lessons while keeping up with the usual staff administrative duties.
She was also relieved her own two children – Abbey in year 12 and William in year 11, at St Francis Xavier College in Florey – as well as a vulnerable year 12 student who lived with them during lockdown, were back at school.
While all three had their own space to study remotely, she said they were glad to be back and Abbey, in particular, would get to enjoy her final weeks of secondary school with her friends.
For mother of three Mel Moffitt, the return to school is a relief tinged with apprehension that her family will be re-joining the community and spending less time together.
Declan, 9, will return to his year 3 class at a Catholic primary school in Canberra and twins Leo and Amelia, 3, will be back in childcare, while their parents return to the office.
“We’re all very tired,” Mel said. “The days have felt incredibly long, where we get up early to work, focus on Declan’s schoolwork during the day, then work late into the night.”
And, of course, there were the twins’ needs. “We attempted to keep a routine but we also tried to embrace it when that all went out the window,” she said.
Although liking the one-on-one lessons at home, Declan was keen to be back with his school friends, while the twins were “totally over” being stuck at home.
Grateful to have been able to work from home, the family was both excited and anxious about the return. “We want to protect [the children] but know they can’t stay home forever,” Mel said.
Meanwhile, lockdown has given them a “greater appreciation for slowing down and making time for our loved ones” and reminded them that “teachers are absolute heroes”.
As a grandparent and one time secondary teacher, I take my hat off(so to speak!) to both the parents and the teachers for their phenomenal and sometimes very demanding efforts to keep education happening during the time of school disruptions. At our stage of life we have both a primary teacher and several home schooling parents amongst our children. Heaven knows how we would have coped in their shoes! Well done all!