At St Matthews Catholic School, we pride ourselves on innovation and on striving to embrace technology-enhanced learning. However, no amount of forward thinking and preparation could have prepared us for the disruption brought about by COVID-19 and the subsequent overhaul of the way we think, work, teach, learn and support.
As a K-12 school, our staff have had to carefully consider the impacts of the changes implemented as a result of COVID-19 and respond accordingly depending on the various stages of learning and teaching.
These considerations include the impact of Infants students missing face-to-face learning time in a critical stage of their learning; supporting our HSC students as they face upheaval during the most stressful year of their schooling; remaining open to provide a safe space for the children of essential workers and providing flexible work arrangements for staff.
Our teachers have had to adapt and upskill in a short space of time, maximising the amount of interactive learning we do, encouraging Zoom meetings to keep students and staff connected, planning engaging lessons and trying to limit the burden placed on parents and guardians.
Mother of three St Matthews students, Mrs Rebecca Quilty, said she was impressed with how seamlessly the children were able to transition to learning from home.
"Our Year 7 boys have found the online learning platform relatively easy to navigate as they are given a weekly learning plan made available to them online every Monday morning", Mrs Quilty said.
Mrs Quilty says she and other parents in the community can see that whilst it has been challenging for parents to work from home whilst simultaneously guiding their children, the positive outcome is that children have had to become a little more self-sufficient and work independently.
"Whilst the change is huge, much of what students have learnt will only benefit them, increasing their ability to learn and work online or remotely; a very likely reality in their future."
Year 8 student, Veronika Cedial Rodriguez agrees that the structured weekly learning plan allowed students to plan and manage their workload in a way that suits their needs and family lifestyle. She has also particularly enjoyed the use of Breakout Rooms which gives students the ability to break into smaller groups and complete group work with their classmates online, with the teacher still there when needed.
Year 11 students Adrienne Diplas and Morgan Rowlands have also found that working independently from home at their own pace is complemented by regular teacher check-ins via Zoom lessons, ensuring they still feel supported and connected throughout isolation.
Leader of Wellbeing, Mr Zach Blashkiw, says that the Wellbeing Team have been in constant collaboration as the emotional wellbeing of the students, families and staff has really come to the forefront during the pandemic.
"As a school, we have done an incredible job keeping in touch with our community, taking a pastoral care approach of regularly checking in with families and providing as much support as possible to ensure their mental health and well-being needs are being met."
When people cannot even gather for Mass on a Sunday, the Mission Team has also worked tirelessly to support the faith of students, staff and families and ensure that faith remains at the centre of all that we do as a Catholic school. Leaders of Mission, Mr Ross McKeown and Mr Sandy Abbey, say they have achieved this by continuing to support prayer life in the family home through digital means such as the development of an online prayer wall and the availability of daily prayers via email and social media.
Mr Abbey said that during this time of social distancing, "it has also been important to continue to instill in our students the importance of service and the need to remember the marginalised."
Executive Principal, Mrs Angela Myles says although it hasn't been easy, she couldn't be more proud of how the whole St Matthews community has responded to this crisis. "The challenges presented to us over recent weeks and months have actually demonstrated how resilient, supportive, collaborative and creative our school community is. Our parents and families have been extremely understanding of how we have needed to manage things as a school, and they have done an amazing job of supporting the learning of their children at home."
With careful consideration of the official advice of health authorities, we are now implementing a gradual return to school for our students. We believe this model to be the best possible approach to meet the needs of our community at this time, supporting the wellbeing of students, families and staff.
We welcome all prospective new families, particularly Kindergarten and Year 7 2021, to view our Enrolment Information Session which will be made available from Monday 8 June.
Mrs Myles wants to assure people that the school understands that 2020 has been a difficult year for many families in our community.
She urged everyone to remember that St Matthews welcomes all families and that no family would be denied a Catholic education due to genuine financial hardship.
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