Award a tribute to schools’ resilience

Flood-affected schools were today recognised at a state ceremony for their role in community recovery and continuity of learning. Linda Doherty reports.

Image: Step forward: Evans River Community School principal Rob Walker with Year 12 students Kimberleigh Lane and Kayla Plowman, and Education Secretary Georgina Harrisson.

For a week in February, Evans River Community School was the evacuation haven for 250 local residents, aged from 18 months to 90 years, when floods devastated the Northern Rivers region.

Principal Rob Walker today recalled how the Kindergarten to Year 12 school of 600 students gave shelter to people who had lost their homes, businesses and possessions, took in their cats and dogs, and enlisted local chefs to cook 1,500 meals a day. Helicopters made six daily drops of food and bedding while the school remained isolated by floodwaters.

Students and staff “looked after each other” and their communities, delivering meals to the elderly and helping clean up flood debris. After the floods the school also took in students from five other schools severely damaged by the natural disaster.

So it was a wonderful recognition when Evans River Community School today received one of 14 Commendation for Resilience Awards at the HSC First in Course ceremony.

Minister for Education and Early Learning Sarah Mitchell said the new awards recognised school communities who went to incredible lengths to set up learning spaces and provide the necessary resources to ensure students could continue learning.

“It is so important that we celebrate students who have achieved outstanding outcomes in the face of adversity, which is why we have introduced a new award to recognise the resilience of schools impacted by flooding across the state,” she said.

Mr Walker said the Evans Head community and the Northern Rivers region was still a long way from recovery, with many families suffering the cumulative loss of homes, cars, possessions, businesses, and employment.

“The students lost everything, their laptops and books, and for the younger ones their toys,” he said.

“To receive this recognition is a great step forward for our community, which has worked so hard for our students to have the best chance in the HSC this year.”

Department of Education Secretary Georgina Harrisson said the special commendations were a tribute to entire school communities.

“You have not only supported your students through this devastating time, you have also protected your students, and provided everything you could that they needed,” she told principals from The Rivers Secondary College in Lismore.

The Rivers Secondary College Executive Principal Chris Williams said school staff were emotional as they saw their students overcome hurdles to still get to school and finish their HSC, even when some families had been forced to move away after losing their homes.

All three campuses of The Rivers Secondary College held Year 12 formals last month, which restored a sense of normality and celebration to the school communities. Tomorrow the HSC students are invited back to their schools to share their successes, which for many was simply getting to the finish line.

The recipients of the HSC 2022 Commendation Awards are:

  • Bede Polding College, South Windsor
  • Casino Christian School
  • Emmanuel Anglican College, Ballina
  • Evans River Community School, Evans Head
  • Mullumbimby High School
  • The Rivers Secondary College – Kadina Campus
  • The Rivers Secondary College – Lismore Campus
  • The Rivers Secondary College – Richmond River Campus
  • St John’s College, Woodlawn
  • Sathya Sai College, Murwillumbah
  • Summerland Christian College, Goonellabah
  • Trinity Catholic College, Lismore
  • Xavier Catholic College, Skennars Head
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