In the wake of the bushfires and COVID-19, the CEP has been speaking with numerous principals across the state. Here is one story from Whitfield District Primary School.
Exceptional Educational Experiences is the vision at Whitfield District Primary School. The school has maintained this vision through the catastrophic Bushfire activity over the summer months and the current remote learning conditions for all students during COVID-19. In fact, the new conditions have allowed the school to flourish, with some students sharing hidden skills with their peers and teachers.
Whitfield District Primary School is a small rural school located in the picturesque surroundings of the King Valley. It is 50 km from its closest township of Wangaratta and 270 km from Melbourne, so being somewhat isolated is not a new concept for the school or their families.
The school has a current enrolment of 36 students and is staffed by two highly experienced full-time teachers. This staffing profile is enhanced with the support of a literacy specialist ; a business manager; and support staff who provide Italian learning; in addition to MACC & MARC teachers. All staff have been fully committed to supporting the academic and social progress of the community throughout the challenges of 2020.
Principal, Mark Van Bergen, believes there have been several factors to consider when transitioning his school community to remote learning. But these considerations are continually adjusted to suit the dynamic needs of their students. He believes that it has been essential to:
- Allow the community to find the rhythm of remote learning, exploring the best routine and approach to support the learners on an individual level.
- Ensure that the staff are balancing their time effectively between planning and teaching, which includes himself as a teaching principal.
- Find solutions to any technical difficulties that the staff and students may be facing with technology.
- Ensure that the learning for all students is authentic and integrated to provide the engagement and opportunities to develop a lifelong love of learning.
The staff at Whitfield have certainly found their rhythm through these challenging times. There have been numerous positive experiences that Mark, and his staff have encountered daily, including strong collaboration between staff to support each other with planning and their personal wellbeing. Whitfield Primary School works in a cluster of local schools (King Valley Cluster), which has played a decisive role in developing new relationships with other rural schools over the remote learning period. Additionally, there has been overwhelming community support for the school, which has included the local bus driver delivering school packs to families.
Whitfield Primary School is student-centered, so it is not surprising that the most significant positive that they have encountered focused on their students. Mark shared with the CEP that his young future leaders are not sitting idle: instead, celebrating daily the different strengths that they are witnessing in their school. These strengths have included students stepping into the role of a teacher, by teaching their staff and peers how to maximise the suite of Google apps to support their learning; sharing card games over WebEx; and displaying a high level of intrinsic motivation by celebrating the flexibility and sense of responsibility that remote learning has provided.
The students and families have particularly enjoyed the freedom that has emerged from the remote learning conditions. It has allowed each student to go into greater depth of a particular subject area without the confinement of moving onto the next curriculum area.
Mark is excited that an integrated unit on water has sparked a more significant curiosity and motivation from his students to explore the possibilities by integrating their learning with the applications available to them. Students are now busily researching and trialling how they are going to present their studies on the water topic using the tools that they have in front of them, and that level of engagement is electrifying for him and his staff.
Whitfield District Primary School is a perfect example of what all of our rural schools are currently doing in these unprecedented times – being creative, engaging with their families and broader community, and always looking for the positives.
Whitfield is keeping a strong intent on a student focused to learning as they navigate their way through the remote learning environment to ensure their school vision of Exceptional Educational Experiences is upheld.