Rowena Public School might be small but it’s been a star feature on the NSW Education Department’s social media pages for mastering the art of juggling school work and farming demands as the sowing of crops happens for the first time in years.

COVID-19 restrictions hit Rowena just when the land started to come back to life following some much-needed rainfall earlier this year.

The Education Department praised the school for ‘digging into its innovation kitbag’ to deliver quality learning from home.

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

Sowing was in full swing in Rowena’s wheat and legume farming district, with some farmers now finishing or just about to finish the planting of crops.

“Farming’s all go here,” said Rowena Public School principal Paul Cecil.

“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 due to COVID-19, Rowena Public 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,” said the Education Department in its report.

“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,” said Mr Cecil.

“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 could complete work at any time as long as the weekly learning package was submitted by Fridays.

Similar to other schools in the region, lessons involved Zoom and FaceTime sessions, paper workbooks that teachers deliver and collect from farms, teacher videos and the extensive use of photos, screen shots and text messages for feedback.

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

“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.

Mr Cecil said Rowena Public School students have been making a ‘staged return’ to school classrooms.

Students across NSW will be back in the classroom full-time from next Monday, May 25.

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