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Championing Change during COVID By Jenni Tucker

COVID-19 resulted in unprecedented educational, social and personal challenges for Victorians, including the Star of the Sea College Community during 2020. Although the experience was difficult, we can also reflect on how we were also blessed with unexpected opportunities to champion necessary change. Our students and teachers transitioned to remote learning and encountered valuable growth from these new experiences.

Initially, our focus was on providing teachers with the digital resources they needed to support remote learning. This included training by our Digital Specialists to ensure teachers had the skills required for this changed environment. Teachers embraced the new learning platform with good will and agility. Students were the true champions as they adjusted seamlessly to a set of different expectations and the delivery of their learning remotely.

The greatest challenge was in finding different ways to deliver the co-curricular events and experiences that are integral to life in the Star of the Sea College Community. There have been successes along the way, such as virtual Parent Teacher Interviews and Subject Selection Information Evening, where parents enjoyed the flexibility of access from home and expressed interest in using this format in the future.

Following feedback through staff and student surveys of the experiences in the first remote learning stage, the College decided to focus on wellbeing and connectedness when we entered the second period of remote learning. Mentor classes promoted engaging competitions, such as fun Fridays, where students dressed in theme for the day and cooked birthday cakes for each other and their families.

Music, Art and Sport required creative thought to deliver engaging activities. Competitions, including ‘Mask Mondays’ where students videoed their performance wearing masks, gave singers the chance to showcase their talents. Calendared events, such as the Piano Concert and annual choral event, Stacella, were performed virtually to family and friends. The scheduled opening night celebration for the 2020 school musical ‘Chicago’ was also a virtual event, and despite the cancellation of the production, was still a night to remember. A virtual Art and Design Show was innovative and accessible to all. Fitness classes were offered before school twice a week with high participation rates. House events including a virtual biathlon and Strava challenges kept girls active and helped them earn points for their House Teams.

We are very proud of the resilience in response to change the students at the College showed throughout 2020. It was clearly a challenging year for Year 12 students, learning through Zoom for lengthy periods and celebrating their final year at the College through significantly abridged COVID friendly events. Our Counselling team implemented support strategies and programs to help girls cope with the changes demanded by this difficult time. We learned that some guest speakers work well over Zoom and our students have enjoyed gratitude, cyber safety, road safety and neuroscience sessions that have proved important messages. Most importantly we remembered to have fun with Pet Assembly, Christmas in July, Star’s Got Talent, Lip Sync, Write a Book in a Day and The Great Debate between students and staff.

There has been a need to adapt to change quickly in all areas of College life. We are grateful to our past students who made our Virtual Careers night so special as they provided videos of their experiences that were shared with Year 10 students and their parents. Past Students, Olympic Rugby 7s Gold Medallist (Rio, 2016) Ellia Green and Olympic Sailor Tess Lloyd (Japan 2021) were very special guest speakers at our Virtual Sports Gala Night.

Perhaps the greatest change opportunity was been redirecting cost savings from cancelled events towards ensuring continued education is available to those affected by the COVID-19 crisis. We made the decision to support individual families in greatest need, including those who lost jobs or income rather than provide a general discount to families. We also decided not to increase College fees for 2021 as a gesture of support for families in our community.

Engaging our community was challenging and we worked diligently to keep communication channels open. Our Business Directory offered us the chance to support families in our community in advertising their small businesses through our College newsletter and social media. We realised that our website was more important than ever and we took the opportunity to develop a new one that will launch at the start of 2021. We managed to host onsite tours early in the year and then transitioned to live, virtual College tours hosted by our Deputy Principals to ensure that future families had the chance to tour our College. Our Parents’ and Past Student Associations continued to meet via Zoom and are ready to organise exciting events next year.

Of course, not everything worked well, but this also provides a unique learning experience to enact necessary change. We now know what is truly important and the experiences that we missed, now mean so much more. The return of students and staff onsite is full of promise; we are changed and we will be grateful for so many small things that seemed insignificant before. The lessons learned are profound, we are now all the more resilient and adaptable to change, 2020 is definitely a year that will be remembered.

Jenni Tucker – Development and Communications Manager , Star of The Sea College


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