Catholic schools of the Maitland-Newcastle Diocese are clarifying that this is not “online learning”, but an educational response to COVID-19. In most instances, it is a blended learning approach delivered to students in their homes.
Suzanne Fern, Head of Teaching and Learning at the Catholic Schools Office, Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle, says blended learning combines online educational material and online interactions with offline and asynchronous opportunities to engage in learning experiences tasks.
“This blended learning response to COVID-19 differs from ‘home schooling’ in that it is primarily facilitated by a teacher rather than the parent,” Ms Fern said. “As is always the case, parent engagement in learning yields better outcomes for students. While it has been challenging for schools to move quickly to this mode of home-based blended learning, all teachers and leaders have responded professionally to ensure the continuity of learning for their students.
“The work of school leaders and teachers in recent weeks has been monumental and is evidence of their profound commitment to the care and learning of their students. In the timespan of seven days, teachers demonstrated great agility.
“In this short time span, schools have proven quality learning can be designed and delivered remotely and that the continuity of learning can assist to provide stability, support and comfort to young people and their families as they navigate this time of uncertainty. However, COVID-19 has exacerbated existing inequities within our education system.”
The Catholic Schools Office have released a Statement of Common Belief, which says Catholic social teaching principles of “solidarity” and “common good” guides their sense of togetherness and community.
“We act for the good of all,” the statement says. “We are inclusive of the rights of each person and group. We have a duty to protect the vulnerable. Therefore, we recognise that business is not ‘usual’. The circumstances of our school communities are changing by the day.
“The spiritual, emotional and physical wellbeing of our children/young people, families and staff must be considered above all else. Continuation of learning must be adaptable as the situation changes. Each teacher, family, student and school will do what is possible.
“We find creative ways to support and nurture our community through information and technology to reduce isolation. We prepare for the bringing together of our community once again, when it is safe to do so, knowing that things will be different.”
The statement acknowledges that parents/carers are the first and foremost educators of the child.
“Therefore, parents are trusted and empowered to make decisions about how children/young people learn at home,” it says. “Parents are generally not trained teachers and are not expected to deliver a curriculum. Learning will be different in every home, but the home environment is full of rich learning opportunities. Schools recognise that circumstances at home may include, parents working from home, members of the family who are unwell, limited access to technology or other circumstances which may prevent students from engaging with formal learning opportunities.”
Holy Name Primary School, Forster Principal Brooke Stephens recently hosted a Zoom meeting for all staff working from home and it has become part of the daily routine. “Like the students, we are always happy to connect with our colleagues and to have the opportunity to check in and share information,” Ms Stephens said.
“Holy Name Kindergarten students use Zoom to connect with each other. There was initially much excitement as they caught up on each other’s news and learnt to navigate this new platform for communication. Their teacher Mrs Sarah Praschinger read the class a story and then talked with them about their home-learning program.
“Students are accessing the class OneNote lessons regardless of whether they are home or school-based learners. It’s hard to believe that there has been so many successful changes in how we educate our students in such a short period of time.
“We’re sure we’re not alone when we say that our school community is incredible. Parents, students and teachers have all been on a very steep learning curve this past couple of weeks. We can feel proud of the resilient, engaged and positive way our school community has responded to this sudden change in our ways.”
Twenty Holy Name Year 6 students connected via Zoom with their teachers to discuss online learning and just as importantly, to catch up and come together as a class.
“Zoom will be an important tool for our school community while students are learning from home,” Ms Stephens said
College Principal John Murphy said the St Bede’s remote learning platform keeps students, teachers and parents connected in education.
“As a community, we understand that health and safety remain a priority and we endeavour to provide all students with a flexible learning model where they can challenge themselves in their studies and monitor their wellbeing, despite the physical disconnect to their school,” Mr Murphy said.
“The staff at St Bede’s are committed to offering quality Catholic educational experiences where significant consideration has been made to catering for students from a range of contexts. The links and resources are designed to support students and parents in this unique mode of learning.”
Holy Cross Primary School at Glendale has made an impressive online community, with many families sharing their home-learning activities on the schools Facebook page. They have also uploaded a creative cover image of a message wall which allows students to leave kind, heart-felt messages to the teachers and staff.
The school is documenting its progress pictorially, even the distribution of its Home Learning Packs for the students. Principal Debra Hawthorne said experiences provide the key to successful home learning.
“Staff at Holy Cross have really made home learning fun, educational and not too stressful, for children and their parents, grandparents and carers,” Ms Hawthorne said. “Home learning emphasises the integral role of continuing to develop and refine skills in literacy and numeracy whilst offering rich experiences across other key leaning areas, inviting children to investigate, explore and create using the backyard as a classroom.
“The school’s Facebook page is spilling over with an abundance of shared experiences and messages of love, hope and gratitude from the school community.”
Daily class Zoom sessions provide an opportunity for all staff to begin the day with prayer, discuss planned activities, share success stories, display their work and catch up with their classmates.
Tasks for all classes have included the construction of Easter hats that were to be worn during Thursday’s Zoom meeting. There were a few construction rules to follow; hats were to be constructed from recyclable materials found around the house. No products were to be purchased, either at the shops or online.
“Messages of hope, encouragement and thanks were shared between staff and families when Home Learning Packs were collected from school,” Ms Hawthorne said. “The poster will now be displayed as a reminder of the great community spirit shared across a small Catholic community.”
Reply posts are instructive. One parent mentioned that their son looks forward to 9am meetings every morning. While another said, “Thank you so much for all your great efforts during this increasingly difficult time. We really appreciate it and I know our children do too. It's a testament to the school and teachers that my daughter is missing everyone and wants to always be at school.”
ASPIRE performers are still treading the boards, the keyboards that is.
COVID-19 related restrictions on group meetings and the strict enforcement of social distancing have made it impossible to conduct ASPIRE’s weekly rehearsals at St Pius X High School in Adamstown in preparation for its yearly the production.
ASPIRE’s artistic director Anna Kerrigan has moved rehearsals for the theatre-minded students online while restrictions are in place.
“Moving rehearsals to an online forum provides students with an opportunity to still come together and share their passions while learning from each other in a contemporary setting,” Ms Kerrigan said. “It also allows for some normality in their routines during this time of general upheaval, and importantly, gives them hope.”
Patrick Howlett, who is in Year 10 at St Mary’s Catholic College in Gateshead, has been an ASPIRE cast member for the past three years. After logging in for the first online rehearsal, he said the experience was “very successful”.
“There weren’t too many drawbacks from rehearsing online,” Patrick said. “Of course, we missed the human contact, but we were still able to interact, which was great.
“Rehearsing over Zoom has meant that we can still catch up regularly and maintain a team mindset, which is the most rewarding thing about it. Saying that, I know students who ordinarily travel a few hours to attend rehearsals think the digital move has been particularly convenient.”