By Aleksandra Bliszczyk

IT was a dreary and dribbly start to the school year last week, but after a confusing 2020 for many children, the cohort wasn’t disheartened by the weather. 

“They arrived in the middle of heavy rain, and because parents are limited in their access [they] didn’t get to come inside the classroom, so our foundation students showed incredible independence and just managed their separation from their parents really well,” Kilmore Primary School principal Neil O’Sullivan said.

“I think all the kids that have come through this period are incredibly flexible and have a lot of resilience in dealing with change.”

Despite the challenges schools faced due to the pandemic, Mr O’Sullivan said many opportunities arose, including the use of new technologies to deliver curriculums and support learning, which helped some students thrive.

He also said professional development among staff had changed radically.

“There have been a lot of positives. We really came to know our community incredibly intimately during that time and we had a very strong focus on community wellbeing and supporting the physical and mental health of our kids, and that’s been highly valued,” he said.

Kilmore Primary School prep students enjoyed their first day at school last week. Pictured are students Zara Sheldon, Kobie McKenner, Lana Wright, Cody Male and Mackenzie Praag.

Kilmore Primary School’s focus on mental health has sharpened in 2021, with an expanded wellbeing program that includes new small-group support programs to help students develop their social skills.

“I think there’s a great sense of stability and regaining that sense of old routines which has been lovely for everyone,” Mr O’Sullivan said.

“It feels like the old normal and everyone is enjoying that.”

Many staff and students across the region shared a sentiment of joy of being back in the classroom after months of remote learning. 

“The [preps] are normally nervous but [this year] they’re just so excited,” Pyalong Primary School principal Jessica Bowen-Duarte said.

“The energy they bring to the school – it’s just lovely.”

Some COVID-19 restrictions still apply to schools, including density limits, additional cleaning and infection prevention training for all staff.

Wandong Primary School students Kobe Barnes and William Bankuti in their classroom on their first day of prep.

Wandong Primary School principal Kelly Morrow said not allowing parents into classrooms had been the most challenging adjustment. 

“It’s tricky because that’s not how we operate with kids and families. We want family involvement, we want community involvement, we want them in our schools, and to try and keep distance is not in our teachers’ natures,” she said.

Wandong Primary School has also introduced a new Auslan language program for students of all ages, which Ms Morrow said had been well received.

With 73 preps, Wandong is among several schools that have seen record enrolments this year, thanks to many new families coming from neighbouring postcodes. 

Pyalong has 15 preps this year, an increase from 11 last year.

Ms Bowen-Duarte said the small school had doubled in the past four years, now with 87 students in total. 

Our Lady of the Way Catholic Primary School in Wallan has 97 preps this year, including four sets of twins.

Our Lady of the Way in Wallan has four sets of twins in prep this year. From left, Bailey and Mason Ferrise; Edith and Gillian Collis; Jackson and Lachlan Marcucci; and Angel and Josh Ustuner.