In response to increasing border restrictions as a result of COVID-19, Murrayville Community College establishes a Rural Learning Hub to support the learning of their South Australian students.
As restrictions intensify across the states and territories, the 2020 school year continues to present unprecedented challenges for teachers, principals and school communities, especially in those schools where students come from multiple states. This shifting environment is demanding teachers and school leaders find creative solutions to the varying levels of COVID-19 restrictions, so that their students are not disadvantaged.
One such school is Murrayville Community College, who have established an interstate, remote learning hub in their South Australian neighbour town, Pinnaroo.
Murrayville is a border community, located in Victoria 16km from the state divide. Pinnaroo rests just 6km inside the border in South Australia. Regardless of the invisible state line, these two communities have always been joined. The petrol station, food stores and supply stores in Pinnaroo service both the towns. The area between the two communities is made up of local farms, with families who attend school, and socialise on both sides of the border.
Murrayville Community College services students from Victoria and SA. However, as each state has rapidly increased the intensity of restrictions around state boundary requirements, College principal, Natasha Mudie, has found her school and students stuck in the middle.
A quarter of Murrayville Community College’s students (which has a student cohort of approximately 100) and one third of staff live in South Australia. That includes four teachers and three education support staff. While initially there was a consideration for cross-border communities (those who live within 40km of the state lines), the compliance requirements were intense: COVID tests every seven days, carrying of photo ID and crossing permit, restriction of activities on the SA side, and a travel limit of 40km if coming from Victoria.
There were established rules from SA police about Victorians entering to access education, but nothing on South Australian students entering Victoria and returning home. ‘We weren’t written into the rules,’ Natasha explains. There has been a lack of consideration for the circumstances the school and students face, as they work to comply with strict border enforcement. ‘The entire community would be lined up every Wednesday for their Covid test’, Natasha explains.
Murrayville Community College student, studying at the Pinnaroo Learning Hub.
However, the South Australian government has announced a further tightening of the border restrictions, with students no longer able to cross the border to access education. While the VCAA will allow an exemption to the Victorian Stay at Home orders for VCE students completing essential assessments, it is not yet clear if the SA government will make similar allowances for South Australian students.
These tightened restrictions have ‘drawn a line through the community’, Natasha says. For those on the Victorian side of the border, not being able to cross into Pinnaroo means a 150+ km round trip to get petrol and supplies.
As it became increasingly difficult for her South Australian students to attend school. Natasha realised she would need to find a way to keep these students and staff connected to their education despite border enforcements.
‘We were watching the border restrictions creeping up and up….we got a feeling they were going to stop us altogether….a staff member said “Well, we need a South Australian campus set up”.’
Teachers and students working at the Learning Hub in Pinnaroo.
Murrayville Community College teacher assisting a student at the Learning Hub in South Australia.
And so they have. In what is an incredibly creative response to their unique situation, the team at Murrayville have been able to establish a learning hub on the South Australian side of the border.
The Pinnaroo Learning Hub operates from the Lutheran Church hall four days a week with on-site supervision provided by the South Australian-based staff members. The hub provides students with internet, teacher support, IT devices and a sense of connection with their school community. An opportunity the ‘kids have really enjoyed,’ Natasha says.
For the time being Natasha’s South Australian students will still be able to access the Pinnaroo Learning Hub, providing them support and connection to their peers and school community throughout the period of remote learning.