How the west won over its students

There was a buzz out west as more than 14,000 rural and regional students headed back to school on Tuesday. Kerrie O’Connor reports.

Image: Imogen Whitelaw and Amani Harris from Burke Ward Public School reconnecting after a long holiday break.

Burke Ward Public School principal Kate Hogg loves the feeling in the air when students – and parents – return to the Broken Hill school.

“It’s my favourite time of year,” she said. “We had parents coming in and they were as excited as some of the students. There were lots of butterflies from the adults and kids, but they all settled beautifully.”

The 120 public schools in the Department of Education’s western division start the term later than eastern division students and staff, due to the higher summer temperatures.

After the pandemic kept so many students and staff away, a noisy start to the school year was music to the ears of Mrs Hogg.

“The buzz was incredible,” she said. “I am excited because we finally get to have kids back at school. It is so quiet without them. It is unreal to see how tall they have grown, hear about additions to the family and what they did in the holidays.”

Mrs Hogg was happy to welcome new staff from Wollongong, Newcastle and South Australia who were being introduced to “‘Burkie pride’, that sense of being a team in the school.

“Once you feel part of the team, the learning will come,” she said.

Wentworth Public School principal Billy Hodgetts was delighted to welcome his third cohort of kindies, since arriving at the school in 2021.

“It is always exciting to see their eagerness to start at big school and see the younger brothers and sisters, and families sending their first child off to school,” Mr Hodgetts said.

“It is also great to see the bigger kids become the helpers and step up and be the leaders for the younger kids.”

Mr Hodgetts said it was an exciting time in education with curriculum reform and evidence-based teaching practices to improve academic and wellbeing outcomes for students.

“We have a strong focus on every child improving every year,” he said. “It is about kids in the classrooms being engaged with their learning.

“We have new teachers eager to get the ball rolling and ensure that learning happens every day.”

The town of Wentworth sits at the junction of the Murray and Darling rivers and experienced major flooding over Christmas.

“It’s great to have the kids back in their routines and with their friends,” Mr Hodgetts said.

Image: Alma Road Public School students.

Alma Public School principal Trish Webb was looking forward to another year of shaping children’s lives.

“We have a real focus on building on the best at Alma,” Ms Webb said.

“Our mantra for this year is: ‘One team, one goal, no limits’. The goal is improving student outcomes for all our kids.

“Culture is everything at this school and that is created by a great bunch of staff who choose to work here because of that ethos.

“We are very much a team that understands that improvement is not optional.”

The Broken Hill school welcomed back Years 1 to 6 on Tuesday and was due to meet the new Kindies today.

Principal Ross Mackay and Year 7 advisor Sarah O’Byrne welcomed a new cohort to Broken Hill High School on Tuesday.

Ms O’Byrne began getting to know students last year at transition activities and loved building a sense of belonging for students and staff.

“I know all the students well through transition activities and every time I teach them in the future, I will be able to create a good sense of belonging,” she said.

The year advisor said she would share her insights about students with other staff members, so they could build on that sense of belonging.

“If students feel they belong to a school, they want to come to school and to classes and be part of something,” she said.

Mr Mackay said it was essential to build healthy, positive relationships from the first day of school.

“Our parents joined the kids at the start of the day and there was a great sense of excitement,” he said.

“They were happy to be here and had been looking forward to it for six months.

“We want students to feel welcome and part of the school community and not be afraid to ask for assistance if needed.”

Ms O’Byrne expected “lots of tears” on the first day for the Year 7 students but instead found “overwhelming excitement”.

“They are ready for something bigger than primary school and are excited to jump in,” she said.

Image: Ms Kate Nolan with the Wentworth Public School 2023 kindy class.
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