It’s 9am on a Thursday morning and school has begun for the day for nine-year-old Violet Duncan.
Instead of the familiar sound of the school bell ringing, she now hears a ‘ping’ on an iPad, telling her it’s time to login to her online class circle time.
Familiar faces soon appear on Google Meet – a video conferencing app. The roll is called, and the 39 children who have joined – 82 per cent of which are English language learners – are asked to share with the class what they are grateful for.
“I’m grateful for having a cat to play with in lockdown,” says Violet.
She describes it as a “different and new” way of learning. “It’s nice to see all my friends and teachers again. It also feels weird because we’re at home.”
Writing a daily journal, completing tasks on a class app, a YouTube ‘workout’ or yoga session and a daily bike ride or walk have become the new norm for her.
It’s a far cry from her “regular” school day, however, Violet’s teachers at Victory Primary School, Ashleigh Della Bosca and Lynda Duncan, are determined to make it as normal as possible without placing too much pressure on parents.
“The whole team at Victory has had to work together to ensure that our families were not isolated during this time, and we were able to maintain those strong connections and support,” says Ashleigh.
“We know kids learn best when they are connected to the people that care about them and we wanted to make sure that we were there for them during this time.”
During the lockdown, they have been staying connected with students using multiple sources, such as phones, video chat, voice recordings and bilingual liaisons – especially those where English is their second language,
“Our children do not have 1:1 devices at home, and, for the most part, are borrowing devices from older siblings or parents, such as cell phones. For that reason, we have had to plan our online programme around that.”
She says families have expressed how thankful they are to be connected to their teacher with support.
Wakefield School principal Peter Verstappen, who is also the Nelson Principals Association president, reports that most schools he has spoken with have come back into the term feeling positive.
“Everyone has got strategies and plans in place and is determined to make it work.”
However, Peter stressed that parents shouldn’t place too much pressure on themselves if they are struggling.
“The most important thing is to find ways of keeping that pressure down in your bubble. If that means not engaging a lot in formal learning, parents should know that’s okay. They need to do what is best for them.”
Peter says the Home Learning TV channel is an excellent way to engage kids in a non-formal way and the Ministry of Education’s home learning website is a good “one-stop-shop” for parents.
Peter says one of the messages he gives to his staff is to put themselves in the parent’s shoes.
“Parents can feel pressured and I’m really trying to stress to my staff to keep things simple. Do what you can. Your main task is to stay well and stay happy. If that means limiting your engagement in schooling, then that’s okay.”