Covid 19 Update Monday 30 March 2020

Good morning everyone, and welcome to the first day of the amended holidays. In case you missed it, the school holidays start early, from today, 30 March to 14 April inclusive. During the holiday break, the Ministry of Education will support schools to develop e-learning and other distance learning options ready for the start of Term 2.

I hope this message finds you well, and that you are developing the routines needed to allow households to function so very differently from our previous patterns. Already, it is clear that rigid timetable-based structures can offer a guide but are not practicable in households where several people are working at the same time, while simultaneously attending to the needs of younger siblings, grandparents and others. Equally, people are developing new patterns more widely. At our house we have a “no Covid 19 topics” rule during mealtimes so we create space to speak of other things. Board games have made a comeback in the evenings to work against the overload of online activity. You will have your own routines emerging. 

At a virtual meeting of the Board of Trustees last week, there was discussion of the pressures families are under. One element where the Board was keen to be clear was school donations. We’re always grateful for the financial support we receive from our community, but the Board understand absolutely that this year many families will be unable to offer the generosity they have shown in the past. The Board does not want any family feeling duty-bound to give to the school at a point where their own financial security is uncertain. They asked me to pass that message on to the community. 

The holiday break offers an opportunity for further planning for term two. It seems likely that the lockdown could go beyond the original four weeks and if it does, we need to plan on the assumption of online learning lasting for some while. The Heads of Learning Areas met online today and report that most learning is happening as planned and at this early stage no major problems have been signalled. We do have slightly over 40 students who are currently using their phones for their study as they have no access to a Chromebook or laptop. We are talking to the Ministry of Education about whether there is a solution to this; it is actually a national challenge rather than one limited to our school . 

Our Teaching and Learning Committee will be doing some work in the next two weeks looking at the implications if the lockdown were to be extended and to clarify the structures that would be needed to ensure that all students are tracked, counselled and supported appropriately. Material on that will be issued closer to the resumption of online study after Easter Tuesday. Of course, in many subjects - especially ones with portfolio based assessment - there remains the possibility for students to continue with work through the break. Getting ahead can help to relieve some of the stress that exists for senior students concerned about their NCEA. 

The Year 9 option  changeover scheduled for the end of term one will be pushed out two weeks into term two so that courses can be wrapped up for this term’s work. The Ministry of Education has also advised today that the review of NCEA standards is now on hold. That removes a source of pressure for schools.

In the midst of what can seem an unrelenting stream of negative news in our media, there are also the small stories that offer a warmth and reassurance. One of these occurred last week, when the Arts Learning Area loaned instruments - many of them donated by our community - to a number of students so they could practise while out of school. Thank you to our donors who made that possible. Our Head of Arts Grace Davey says “Almost all of the instruments were donated to school, so rehoming them was a real joy for me, while practising safe distances even when students’ instincts were to hug.”

Grace also says she, “Put a hello out to ex students and it seems the 2019 cohort are more at a loss than others. University stopped before it really began for them and many are missing the support and connection of school.  As a result Simon Buxton has now started an online music project for current and past students and it has gone out to a wide range of past and present students. Some who have shown interest are older than me!  I have no idea what will come of it but already I am proud of my 2019 cohort reaching out to each other and finding different ways of being creative together.”

It’s lovely to hear that our community, including recent ex-students, current students and their whanau are helping each other to remain positive and purposeful in what is a challenging time. Thank you all.

Ross Sinclair