Principal: We will not make parents feel like outcasts

In light of the announcement made by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern about schools reopening tomorrow in Alert Level 3, and children of essential workers returning to school,  IAN DICKINSON, Principal of Pigeon Mountain Primary School reflects on the implications and the logistical challenge.

Ian Dickinson, principal of Pigeon Mountain Primary, says the school will open in two parts from tomorrow. Photo supplied.

It’s unusual times for us and our biggest challenge, other than finalising numbers likely to attend, is identifying the staff able to attend (obviously, there are multiple situations affecting this large group of people); and then pinning down our systems for maintaining the safety and wellbeing of those who will be with us from Wednesday.

We are not actively encouraging our community to flout rules and attend school but we see ourselves now as an essential service, for essential workers- very much in-line with our school vision of providing ‘Education with a Heart’.

We will not make parents feel like outcasts or criminals when they have no option other than go to work. Some of the things I’ve read from some other schools have made me feel embarrassed to be an educator!

We have sent out a survey to the parents through our school website, Facebook, social media and emailed for them to let us know if their children who have no supervision at home (since their parents are essential workers) will be returning to school.

As a school, we will maintain safety for children, teachers and members of staff and for that we will develop a plan.

Prior to lockdown, we were lucky that we were planning about three weeks for this eventuality – a colleague overseas was sharing some useful materials about their planning in the event of a lockdown and we developed it further for our own community.

I spoke to our community on video, through Facebook and WeChat ahead of the new term, revisiting the plans/systems/structures we had initiated at the end of T1 when we were closed down.

Our teachers had already started the ball rolling ahead of the holidays break so we were able to just pick up where we’d left off to some extent.

A number of us maintained the connection with students and parents during the holiday break – little things like face-to-face meetings online, mini video messages every day, reading a story online etc.

We felt it was important during the early weeks of lockdown to do this to try and reduce stress and create a little ‘normality’ (if that was possible).

We attempted to identify our most needy parents in terms of devices before the holiday break, but we’ve found that we are amazingly lucky with the number of households in our school already equipped with the means to engage in learning.

As such, we felt it better to provide our own machines on a loan basis to the families without anything for their children to use. I think it is every school’s responsibility to meet the needs of its own community and not to prejudge what parents want.

Our teachers have worked hard to meet the needs of all our learners, our families and their diverse situations. We had three simple goals when developing our approaches–maintain some routines, learning and connections.

There are some elements of time-tabled sessions that children could attend if possible with open-ended learning they could do through the day.

We had provided links to online sites and applications for them to explore or practice independently, some ways of submitting/returning learning for feedback and all this wrapped in ‘Education with a Heart’. There was an understanding that some children will do everything, some will do a chunk and some will dip in and out depending on circumstances and parent expectations.

And no one will be given a hard time or stress as a result of how much or little they did.

Now, as our school reopens in two parts, we will continue to maintain connections with children doing online learning at home and have those kids in school whose parents are essential workers. It’s exciting times and we’re proud to be part of this community.