Finding a way through the pandemic

There’s a huge amount of pressure trying to balance the competing needs of educational outcomes and the health and safety of so many people in your community.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the pivotal roles schools can play in providing a safe hub forstaff, students and their families, journalist Sue Osborne writes.

Rosebank College in Sydney’s inner west is one such school. Principal Iris Nastasi, only six months into the job, and the school’s first ever female lay principal, has been thrown into the deep end, but she has coped admirably.

“I was working for systemic leadership last year, watching other principals having to cope with lockdowns, and I didn’t envy them,” Nastasi said.

“And now I find myself in exactly that situation. There’s a huge amount of pressure trying to interpret what’s going on, what that means for your students, and balancing the competing needs of educational outcomes and the health and safety of so many people in your community,” she said.

“My biggest learning is that it’s the calibre of relationships that carry us through. Crisis brings us together. I think students learn in a place where relationships and community are strong. And having a sense of humour is important. Laugh, and you’ll probably be sustained.

“I have admiration for those people who lead in this very difficult space. Whether you agree with them or not, they’re making decisions for all of us.

“Everybody will rally around a message that offers some hope and optimism.”

Rosebank College has been offering support to its community that has proved inspirational to other schools.

The class of 2020 has stepped up to provide mentoring to this year’s Year 12 students, sharing their advice and tips on how to cope while studying for the HSC during a lockdown.

This second year of lockdowns is particularly tough for students who already went through it in Year 11, Nastasi said.“A Class of 2020 Alumni wrote to say that she was concerned about the current Year 12 moving into a COVID schooling existence, and that she would like to offer support, particularly around mental health.

“A project called ‘From me to you – yes you can’, was born, starting with a series of videos made by last year’s Year 12 for this year’s Year 12. The magic of it is that only last year’s Year 12 can really understand how this year’s Year 12 feel.

“There’s a wisdom that comes from the fact that these students were there before, but there’s also an added bonus in that students really do listen to their peers much more than they will to adults.”

Other initiatives have included teachers getting involved with funny and sometimes poignant videos about their own lockdown experience to entertain the school community and keep up morale.

Nastasi has recruited a special talent, in the shape of her dog, Bailey, who has been joining her on videos for the community and raising morale instantly.

The college is also providing online workout videos to keep the community fit and active. And there’s a school Olympics program where people perform activities intheir home.

“This is not by any means one person, this is everybody thinking, ‘how can I connect with my students, how can I connect with my community’?” Nastasi said.

“Rosebank is only one of many, many schools that are doing things like this.

“Recently I saw a photograph from our St Benedict Day celebrations last year where all the students were together in the hall, dancing and making so much noise. It reminded me how fantastic it is when everybody can come together and how little opportunity students have had to do that lately.

“This pandemic shows how great schools are and how dedicated teachers are – and this is what will get us over the line.”