For Sam Jenkins, returning to school is a sign that “everything is back on track” after the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Year 12 student at St Paul’s Catholic College, Booragul, joined thousands of pupils across the state in walking back into school at least one day a week as the COVID-19 shutdown lifted under a staggered approach.
Most students have been learning remotely since late March after NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian ordered parents to keep their children at home if possible.
Sam, who wants to study law at the University of Newcastle, says it has been a stressful period.
“Being able to come back to a safe environment with a schedule and timetable is comforting,” Sam says.
“It was tough to get into [remote learning] but I’m quite an independent learner so I didn’t really mind.
“But I know a lot of people struggled in sticking to a schedule and things like that.”
As part of the relaxing of restrictions, schools are responsible for implementing the staggered return while extra measures have also been introduced, such as temperature-testing students and more cleaning in classrooms.
St Paul’s Catholic College Principal, Graeme Selmes, says his focus has been on keeping students and staff connected during the unprecedented situation.
“Teaching is about relationships and, without that, it really is quite difficult, and the kids struggle with that just as much as the staff do,” he says.
“Everyone is quite excited but nervous at the same time – this is unchartered territory for everybody.”
Mr Selmes adds he has been involved in regular meetings with a secondary principals’ association via Zoom to compare ideas and thoughts.
“We’ve all done different things because it’s all about local context, but it has worked well,” he says.
“I have also worked closely with the [Catholic] Diocese and had multiple meetings with education officers and directors to make sure we’re all on the same page and working together to make it a safe and quality teaching and learning environment for the kids.”
Meanwhile, COVID-19 restrictions are set to ease further tomorrow (Friday 15 May).
Under the changes, outdoor gatherings of up to 10 people and up to five visitors to a household at any one time are allowed.
Cafés and restaurants can seat 10 patrons at any one time, while weddings can have up to 10 guests and indoor funerals can have up to 20 mourners, with 30 allowed for services that occur outside.
Outdoor pools will also reopen with restrictions, and outdoor equipment can be used with caution.
Religious gatherings and places of worship can also open to up to 10 worshippers.