School delivers as land comes back to life

When COVID-19 restrictions hit remote Rowena as the drought broke, the school dug into its innovation kitbag to deliver quality learning from home.

Image: Teacher Sandy Shearer with her Kindergarten daughter, Tabitha, collect student work packs from farm mailboxes for assessment and feedback.

Problem-solving is a fact of life for principals and particularly so for Rowena Public’s Paul Cecil, faced with a unique set of circumstances as his 28 students moved to learning from home in late March.

In Rowena’s wheat and legume farming district in the far north-east of NSW, the drought had lasted five long years until earlier this year when good rain fell and planting is now in full swing.

“Farming’s all go here. The rest of the world is shutting down, but in our community we’re starting up again after five years. Our families are flat out putting seeds in the ground,” Mr Cecil said.

When learning from home was introduced in response to COVID-19, the school had to quickly solve a number of challenges. The cycle of sowing was a priority for parents and every available man, woman and many children were working the land; the internet was “sketchy at best” and the load was stretched with high school boarding school siblings now home and also needing access for online learning.

“Our goal was to do exactly what we did in class normally, but we had to have a variety of delivery and flexibility for the students and their families,” Mr Cecil said.

“The reality is many of our kids are helping out on farms so we recognise that it’s not a normal 9-3 day for them. Some kids are getting up at 4am, doing schoolwork until 9am and then going out to plant.”

The school timetable remained the same but students complete work at any time as long as the weekly learning package is submitted by Fridays.

Image: Rowena Public School students learning from home.

Lessons include Zoom and FaceTime sessions, paper workbooks that teachers deliver and collect from farms, teacher videos loaded on to USBs, and extensive use of photos, screen shots and text messages for feedback and to submit work.

“The lessons had to be accessed on a variety of devices, because often phones work better than the internet out here,” Mr Cecil said.

Students have a Zoom check-in session on Mondays where the week’s work is outlined and can book phone, FaceTime or Zoom calls with teachers at any time.

“Our staff members’ professional and calm approach meant that at-home learning wasn’t a completely foreign concept. We organised and developed knowledge in technology, online learning resources, filming and YouTube,” Mr Cecil said.

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