School gates re-open

Montrose Primary School prep student Norah with teacher Miss Spillane.

After two months of empty classrooms and silent schoolyards, Victorian schools welcomed back about 257,000 students on 26 May as part of a staged return to classroom learning.

Students in Prep, Grade 1, Grade 2, VCE, VCAL and students at specialist schools were among the first to return to the classroom, with remaining year levels set to return by 9 June.

Education Minister James Merlino praised school communities for their efforts with remote learning during the pandemic.

“Remote learning hasn’t been easy, but I couldn’t be prouder of how our principals, teachers, support staff, students and families have responded to the challenge,” Mr Merlino said.

Mr Merlino recently announced a summit will be held in June to investigate what improvements can be made to the education system as a result of the remote learning experience.

For now, students from Grade 3 to Year 10 continue to learn from home, allowing the Chief Health Officer to monitor the effects of returning to school on the transmission of coronavirus in the community.

College Principal at Yarra Hills Secondary College Darren Trippett said the remote learning experience received fantastic feedback, but there was still a positive atmosphere inside the school gates upon return.

“It’s basically a new normal, the return is not to what it used to be like, “ Mr Trippett said.

At Yarra Hills, the ‘new normal’ involves strict hygiene practices and all classroom doors are left open to reduce contact with door handles. While every student must be outside during breaks to minimise congregation inside, there is no borrowing sports equipment for the time being. Even the once shared canteen sauce has been replaced, with individual sachets given to students to minimise contact.

“The students have actually been very reasonable and mature about distancing themselves. You’ll see them in groups standing around talking but they aren’t arm in arm, they are a couple of metres apart. They’re doing really well,” Mr Trippett said.

“It’s a little bit more time consuming but we’re confident that the protocols we have in place make it a very safe environment.

Many schools are also implementing staggered drop-off and pick-ups to reduce the number of adults gathering inside school grounds at any one time.

Principal at Montrose Primary School Kylie Fisher said staggered start and end times have been a success. Students in Prep to Grade 2 arrive and finish 15 minutes earlier than usual school times, and when Grades 3-6 return they will arrive at 9am and finish at 3.30pm to reduce groups gathering inside the schoolyard.

“The return has been really successful. We sent out quite detailed information about return to school and what the procedures would be,” Ms Fisher said.

“The important part was making sure the return to school was exciting and enjoyable. We had balloons and staff supporting students and the gate and encouraging parents to do a kiss and drop.

Parents are doing a ‘kiss and drop’ at two designated entry points, with students greeted by staff as they step foot off the school crossing.

“The kids have really stepped up and been resilient. They are so excited to be back seeing their friends and be back in their normal routines,” Ms Fisher said.