It’s no secret that COVID-19 has changed the way we go about our daily lives – not only are many people working from home, but students have been thrown into virtual learning too.

With less than a weekend between the latest lockdown announcement and school starting virtually the following Monday, teachers and students across the shire had their schedules turned upside down.

Narrabri High School, the town’s only secondary education facility, was under extreme pressure as teachers across numerous year groups and faculties quickly adapted their classwork to be done at home.

Cathy Evans, mother to Mathew (Year 10) and Kaitlin (Year 7), says she’s delighted to see the school’s staff working so hard to run virtual learning as smoothly as possible for her children.

“The kids are going well, keeping up with the work, which has been made possible thanks to the dedicated teaching cohort at Narrabri High,” she said.

“Obviously the children would prefer to be at school, interacting with their teachers and fellow students, but they’re still working hard and making the most of the current circumstances.”

Narrabri High is operating according to a year group-specific timetable, which is updated weekly.

This includes all of the students’ Zoom video conference classes, of which there is at least one per subject every week.

Mrs Evans says there’s variety in how the teachers deliver their classes on Zoom, which does a nice job of keeping the students engaged.

“Some teachers use the Zoom to teach a regular classroom lesson, others are using the opportunity to touch base with the kids and go through any problems or concerns the students might have, and some use the video meeting to summarise that week’s learning,” she said.

“It really depends on the subject being taught, and what process the teacher finds most effective.”

Outside of Zoom, students work through exercises assigned via Google Classroom, which has been set up by their teachers.

Educators everywhere have been made to adapt to online learning thanks to the ongoing pandemic, but Mrs Evans says she’s particularly proud of how well Narrabri High has done.

“The teachers and staff at the school have done an amazing job,” she said.

“They had less than 48 hours to pivot to online learning this time around, but everything was up and running by Monday morning.

“The work that’s coming through for all subjects is extensive and comprehensive, across the board.

“And the interaction with the teachers, via Zoom, has been really good to keep everyone on track and engaged.

“My kids are particularly liking their English and Science classes, but they’re getting plenty of content and support in all of their subjects.

“We’re under pretty trying circumstances, but our teachers are doing a wonderful job considering it all – especially for those teachers that can’t make it into school and are doing it all from their homes, where their own families are also undertaking virtual learning and work.

“It’s very challenging but everyone’s doing a great job.”

Mrs Evans is keen to see a return to some sense of education normalcy, so she’s pleased with the recent local vaccination efforts in which almost 1000 jabs were administered in a mass vaccine program last weekend.

“I would love to see our kids all return to school, hopefully by the beginning of next term – particularly if our area keeps up COVID-safe efforts and maintains zero cases,” she said.

“We took our children along to the mass vaccination clinic on the weekend and it was great to see so many people turn up.

“Our kids saw plenty of their peers there, also lining up for their first vaccination, which was really encouraging to see.”

Many teachers also attended the clinic over the weekend for their jab, including Sam Coppin from the school’s English department.

Like Mrs Evans, Miss Coppin has also been impressed with students and staff throughout lockdown.

She says the switch to online learning was made easier by the school’s foresight ahead of tighter restrictions.

“Even though we didn’t have much time between regional NSW going into lockdown and class starting on Monday, we did have a few measures already set up,” she said.

“The school suggested we have some of the virtual tools prepared, just in case, so we had the students ready to go by the time lockdown came into effect.”

Miss Coppin only started teaching with Narrabri High this year and says adapting to COVID has played a big part in her first year as a full-time educator.

“I wasn’t with the school for the first lockdown, so it has been a little challenging trying to figure out the best approach when it comes to online learning,” she said.

“So, there’s been a little bit of trial and error over the last few weeks.

“But one thing that has really helped is checking in with my students and hearing their feedback.

“It’s great to see my students are comfortable speaking up and letting our staff know what’s working and what could be improved.

“My Year 9 class in particular have been very vocal in their feedback, which has helped me structure not only their lessons, but I’ve been able to apply their comments in some of my other classes too.”

Miss Coppin says every year group and every student is different but, in general, she’s been impressed with the pupils’ effort as they learn from home.

“It’s great to see students putting in the work, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised with just how well some of them are performing given the current circumstances,” she said.

“I’ve been particularly impressed with my students who are completing their work in a timely matter – sometimes I’ll upload the work on a Monday morning and half of the class has already finished it by the middle of the day.”

Miss Coppin says one factor of the new learning methods she’s interested by is how her students interact on Zoom calls.

“Some classes prefer not to use their video or audio, opting for the chat function instead, meanwhile other classes will talk over each other unless they’re muted,” she said.

“So, it’s nice that Zoom offers those different communication tools to cater to different confidence levels.

“I think those video conferences have also given us a chance to connect socially, even if we can’t see each other in person – it’s strengthened some of the student-teacher relationships.

“For example, some of our Zoom calls stay on after the class itself has finished, just for those who want to chat and catch up.

“And, even though that isn’t a requirement of our teachers or students, it’s almost like a nice wellbeing check-in for everyone to fill their social battery while we’re locked down and the kids are unable to see friends.

“Whether it’s to talk about what books we’ve been reading, ask questions or share life updates, that little extra time before or after class has been a welcome addition – there was plenty of introductions to family pets in the first week.

“Even though we’re online, it’s great to see that freedom and trust to share with each other.”

Miss Coppin says Narrabri High has made an effort to include all students in the learning from home experience, with hard-copy paper classwork options for those who don’t have access to the necessary technology needed.

She also noted that, while these virtual learning capabilities have been made possible thanks to dedicated staff, parents should share in the praise.

“Parents definitely deserve to be recognised for making sure their children are keeping up with the work,” Miss Coppin said.

“And particularly for teachers and other working parents who are balancing their own workload with their child’s school responsibilities.

“Having spoken with other teachers, especially those with their own kids, I’ve been able to gain some insight into the juggling act they’re trying to maintain and this has helped me in my approach to online learning – I’ve tried to set up my classwork to be as straightforward as possible, giving my students the ability to do a lot of it autonomously without the need for parental supervision.

“I’ve asked myself what the most efficient methods will be from the child’s point of view, what tools will be easiest for them to operate without their parents having to show them how to scan a document or open a PDF, for example.

“So, since we don’t have that face-to-face time with them every day, we’re very thankful to the parents – I really think they deserve a lot for the effort they’re putting in.”

In terms of when schools will be returning to campus, Miss Coppin says staff find out when the rest of the state does.

“We don’t know when lockdown will end or when we’ll go back to teaching in person,” she said.

“We’re just trying to be adaptable and take each day as it comes.”

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