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Wairarapa principals: Well-being comes first

Featherston School during last year’s lockdown. PHOTOS/FILE

Story by Tom Taylor

Wairarapa schools are making preparations for learning to continue in the event of an extended lockdown. But principals say the most important thing right now is the wellbeing of their pupils.

The Ministry of Education advised schools to act with extreme caution.

At Alert Level 4, all education facilities were closed. When Wairarapa returned to Alert Level 3, schools could reopen for children whose parents needed to go to work.

Secretary for education Iona Holsted said although the resurgence of covid-19 was the last news anyone wanted, it was an occurrence that was predicted to happen at some point.

“This extremely short and sharp shift in alert level settings will support us to prevent widespread infection in the community,” Holsted said in a message to school leaders.

But unaware that an alert level shift would occur on Tuesday evening, many pupils had left school that afternoon without their devices.

Holsted said because of the importance of the first 24 hours in contact-tracing the virus, there was no exemption process to allow schools to arrange devices for their pupils.

Featherston School principal Gina Smith said although the school’s online learning systems were already up and running, her pupils would not have any mandatory classes for the rest of the week.

“There is enough reading and maths up there for our kids to do until such a time as we know what is happening,” Smith said.

She said if the lockdown was extended, she would help to get devices out to pupils who needed them.

However, she said parents should not force their children focus on schoolwork, but rather focus on their well-being.

“Kids are going to be hearing all this scary information, and this time they know that they can get sick too.”

Smith advised parents to use the lockdown to cook with their children and read to them.

“We forget that kids learn from us, and we need to get out from in front of the TV and off our computers. I understand that people need to work, but our kids need us too.”

Mauriceville School principal Kim Lupo said her school was much better prepared for lockdown this time around.

“We realised there was a possibility that this would happen, whether now or in six months’ time. We knew what we were going to do in the eventuality of a lockdown,” Lupo said.

Mauriceville pupils from Year 3 to Year 8 had their own laptops at school.

As soon as Lupo heard the announcement on Tuesday, she and other teachers went into school to gather the Chromebooks and deliver them to pupils along with other learning resources.

“We have 17 kids, so it’s so much easier for us to jump to it and get things sorted. I do feel for principals who have 200 or 300 students at their school – it’s a lot more difficult.”

There would be no expectation at this stage for pupils to complete any set work.

“It’s there if they want to do it; it’s there if their parents feel happy to support them, but I don’t want to put pressure on, because this was so unexpected for a lot of people. My first priority is the well-being of my families and my staff and students.”

Many of the region’s boarding students returned to their homes after the lockdown announcement.

Solway College principal Janine Tupaea is spending the lockdown at school with her boarding students.

Solway College principal Janine Tupaea would spend the lockdown at school with her remaining boarders, with her own children also joining the bubble.

“The students are being well fed – there were plenty of food supplies – and enjoying each others’ company,” Tupaea said.

St Matthew’s principal Kiri Gill said matrons would care for her remaining boarders, while she would maintain close contact with other students – especially the children of essential workers.

“At home does not mean out of mind,” Gill said. “It is never lost to me that my community of students, staff, and parents need to know that it matters to me that they are okay.”

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