The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted education systems across the world. Schools are being challenged to provide flexible and remote learning and to develop new ways to support their students, families and staff.
Mater Christi College is a Catholic secondary school for girls at Belgrave in Victoria. It is inspired by the ethos of the Good Samaritan Sisters and Benedictine values of community, stewardship and justice.
As schools across Australia went into lockdown, the college put together a suite of initiatives based around regular communication and connection to support the community of students, families and staff.
A trial of online classes followed the school timetable, but with reduced class times, and expectations were established and published. The school’s Learning Management System was opened up for parents to have full access to students’ class notices and resources. The trial provided valuable feedback to students, teachers and parents about what worked and what could be improved.
Quick check-in surveys with students in the first and third week of online classes provided feedback on teaching and learning in the new context. The surveys also helped to identify students who were looking for more support – technical, wellbeing and learning.
Contact by telephone has been a key communication channel and more than 700 calls were made within the first month to students, families and staff.
A ‘click and go’ service was set up for students to borrow books online and collect from the campus. This was supported through social media posts #MaterReads.
Parents and others connected with the college who are self-employed or small business owners were invited to register for a business directory, the Mater Christi Community Hub. The concept was launched through social media and there are plans for it to be extended to alumnae.
The college’s social media has a strong reach and is an important point of connection in the school community. Regular posts provide assurance that programs and opportunities are happening, albeit in a different way.
The podcast MaterChat posted a discussion between teachers Colleen Bolton and Tori Gordon and Year 10 students, Maddie and Sienna, about working from home during the lockdown.
Maddie said she found she was able to do a lot more exercise, which helped her to keep a clear mind and stay motivated to do schoolwork and new things such as learning Spanish. She said being patient was the key to coping with social isolation: “It was a good time to practise patience.”
Sienna also identified doing more exercise to help maintain a healthy mind and body. She connects with her friends on Zoom for group exercise. She appreciated having more free time to explore new music and watched the online Homefront Concert on Anzac Day. “As much as it’s been a challenge, everyone is going through the same things. I’ve just taken each day as it comes, and it’s not been too bad.”
The college was well placed regarding technology platforms and staff competence. This was integral to the success of online classes and building confidence within the school community.
Students and teachers embraced opportunities provided by Zoom beyond their online classes. They were invited to join in a community activity time each day, which included trivia quizzes, exercise sessions, craft activities and pastoral group social time.
Giftpacks of home-made cookies were sent to local primary schools. This was a simple gesture of solidarity and an acknowledgement of the extra challenges these schools faced.
With the transition back to classes at school commencing on May 25, the college is addressing the new questions and challenges that have emerged.