By Danielle Kutchel
School has looked a bit different for students at schools around Victoria over the past couple of weeks.
But for those with disabilities or additional needs, there have been extra challenges.
At Dandenong Valley SDS in Narre Warren, assistant principal Kim Saunders-Lipari said the initial complexity lay in assessing what would be the best way to deliver teaching and learning to students with disabilities.
“We realised that options that mainstream schools were taking weren’t necessarily going to suit our students,” she said.
The school settled on a remote learning drive as the best option, with links to activities under the curriculum that families and students could undertake within their own timeframe according to what best suited their learning ability.
The activities were designed around resources that families would have access to at home, rather than having to rush out and buy new learning tools.
Most activities were hands-on, and interactive activities were also uploaded on the site so students could still visually see their teacher.
The school has a bike program, and staff have videoed themselves riding so they can continue teaching students to ride a bike.
And, every family has received a weekly phone call from staff to support them through any difficulties and answer questions.
Families have taken to sharing photos and videos with teachers of their students engaging in online learning.
“We can’t deny there are difficulties in home-schooling for some families because the students have complex needs, but generally we’ve had good feedback,” Ms Saunders-Lipari said.
“We’ve had some beautiful comments about how during this time at home, parents have re-established relationships with their children.
“There’s more comprehension of where their students are at and what supports they really do require and that will help later on like when accessing NDIS funding as to what their children require.”
Over at Marnebek School in Cranbourne East, there have been similar scenes through screens.
Staff opted to provide online classes using tools like Webex, and for students who found that challenging or who rely on having physical resources in front of them, they also provided learning packs.
“A lot of staff created resources at home, taking what they need from school like paper and laminators, and then we’ve created ‘Scuber’, School Uber, and delivered resources to students in need of them,” explained assistant principal Chris Murray.
“Staff have been unbelievable, and gone above and beyond. It’s been stressful for everyone, but the focus and concentration has been well above and beyond what I ever expected.”
Like at Dandenong Valley, Marnebek’s teachers have been keeping in touch with their families.
“We have a big community focus here so not having the face-to-face conversations is hard. We’ve overcome that by asking all staff to make daily phone calls,” he said.
A Facebook page was set up to bring parents together and allow them to communicate with each other.
Assemblies are posted online, and students like to re-watch them to see their friends.
“In many ways, we’re closer now because of this. Coming back, we’ll be a stronger community,” Mr Murray said.
There are some aspects of the Covid-world that Marnebek will keep once students return to school.
Staff have expressed a desire to keep the communication channels they’ve established open, to continue to contact parents outside of parent-teacher interviews. Staff meetings may still be held via webex to streamline the process for staff, who are spread across two campuses.
With the return to school looming, Mr Murray said both students and teachers are looking forward to getting back to the campuses.
“Teachers miss seeing students. I don’t think any teacher got into teaching thinking they’d be teaching remotely,” he said.
“Building relationships with students is so vital, and face-to-face is so key to strengthening those relationships.”
Measures have been put in place to allow for extra cleaning, handwashing and social distancing.
Ms Saunders-Lipari said teachers at Dandenong Valley have been “furiously meeting online” to discuss the impending return, with a focus on re-establishing routines.
“Our students mostly arrive and depart on a school bus system and that has complexities on moving them through the school, how to cater for individual hygiene and routines.
“The Department of Education has provided us with PPE, so there are lots of things to address.
“Also, our curriculum will have a bit of a shift in focus to ensure we re-engage with students and re-establish routines,” she added.
She too can see value in some of the online tools and platforms that the school has established.
“It’s an amazing collection of ideas, a way of collectively planning for activities and we don’t want to just finish with that, we want to move on to using that and probably re-focusing it a little bit,” Ms Saunders-Lipari said.
“This has been a massive learning experience for us and our families. There have been challenges – but there have been lots of positives.”
Mr Murray agrees.
“This has brought our school closer together. Our teachers have done some amazing things.
“We’ve had to be quite agile in our thinking and families have understood that to overcome any issues quickly and get on with what’s been requested – we couldn’t thank them enough.”