‘When will it end?’: Preps pop burning questions on COVID

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When Sophie Burke’s prep class discusses COVID-19, they don’t raise concerns about catching it themselves. They want to know when disruption from the pandemic will end.

“I wish I knew the answer,” Ms Burke, foundation teacher at Resurrection Primary School in Kings Park, said.

Prep students Aeyana and Nancy are back at school as lockdown 6.0 ends. Credit:Penny Stephens

“I don’t think they’re worried, they’re just a bit confused about when it will end and why it happened.

“In the classroom we talk about it a lot, helping them understand why we’ve provided them with masks, why we’re all wearing masks.”

After almost a term of remote learning during Victoria’s latest COVID-19 wave, all 75 preps returned to the Catholic school in Melbourne’s outer north-west this week.

“I think the parents were just as excited as the kids to come back,” Ms Burke said.

Tina King, of the Australian Principals Federation, said a small proportion of families were keeping their preppies at home because of Victoria’s high COVID-19 case numbers.

“At the back of our minds we’re dealing with fear and apprehension,” Ms King said.

But she predicted these students would return this month as the state hits vaccination targets.

Ms King said most preps barrelled through school gates on Monday and schools had newfound confidence too.

“It’s like a grey cloud has lifted,” Ms King said. “There’s not that fear of going back to lockdown.

“They now know [COVID cases] will be dealt with at a local level, so they can bounce back after a short period [of isolation].”

Under new rules for coronavirus cases at schools, secondary students who are close contacts and who have had two jabs will be free to return to classes after a day-six test. Primary school students and unvaccinated students must isolate for 14 days.

Schools are also using different strategies to help primary school students make the social and psychological switch back to face-to-face learning.

Students at Quarry Hill Primary using Unboxy, a building game schools are using to help kids settle back into school after lockdown.

After weeks of learning on screens and while isolated from each other, year 5 and 6 students at Quarry Hill Primary in Bendigo were set a hands-on challenge on their first day back last Thursday.

A stack of geometric cardboard shapes and connectors were laid out on the classroom floor, and the kids were directed to divide into groups and try to piece together the biggest flower they could build.

Teacher Tonya Van Deurse said the exercise was part STEM lesson, part bonding session.

“We wanted something for the kids to look forward to when they came back,” she said. “Remote learning has been a bit of a slog for a lot of them and we wanted [their return] to involve not just seeing their friends, but some fun things that they don’t get to do at home either.”

The shapes are a collaboration between education researchers at La Trobe University and architecture firm Y2 and were designed during the pandemic as a tool to help children transition back into the classroom after an extended absence.

Ms Van Deurse said students had adapted to the COVID protocols such as hand sanitising and mask wearing quickly. The return to good learning habits would take more time, she said.

“It’s [like] the start of the year again, just getting them to interact with each other,” she said. “And some of them have become very work-shy over remote learning, so we’re trying to instil enthusiasm to get their work done … and take advantage of being at school.”

Schools are doing a variety of things to reduce the risk of infection. They are leaving windows and doors open, eating lunch outside, having staggered lunch breaks, staff are wearing masks and must be vaccinated. Masks are compulsory for years 3 and above and encouraged for younger students.

Ms Burke advised parents and carers to talk to children about how schools would be different.

“Helping them understand that these are the things we’re doing, so we can keep other people safe and keep ourselves safe,” she said.

The government recently fast-tracked the return of some year levels on the back of Victoria’s rapidly growing vaccination rate. All students will be back full-time from November 5.

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