26 Oct 2021

Some Auckland senior students return, while younger years wait for news

From Checkpoint, 5:12 pm on 26 October 2021

Some Auckland students have returned to the classroom for the first time in over two months.

At James Cook High School in Manurewa, it was back to school level 3 style.

Staff need a negative test, there is a different kind of sign-in, masks, socially distanced desks, hand sanitiser around every corner, windows and doors open for ventilation and lots of cleaning.

For Years 11 to 13 it was not how they envisioned their last term.

"It's interesting, it's definitely different. [There's] more expectations from students, with the mask-wearing, you have to wear them all the time ... you can't really breathe well, and there's just so much that's going on, so it's stressful," a Year 12 student said.

"It helps reduce the stress I guess, so I'm not alone ... at home, " said another.

Principal Grant MacMillan was pleased with the numbers.

"We've just run out of our student handbooks, and I printed a couple hundred of those of maybe 300 over the weekend."

Now their task was to get both the students who had returned to the classroom and the ones still at home through their crucial NCEA assessments.

He said it was vital students did not have to choose between education or supporting their families.

"A number of our students are helping with their families' incomes right now by working, that's okay we can fit the learning around that they don't have to force to choose one or the other.

"So the real challenge for us is how we look after our senior students, particularly 12 and 13's who are off-site and support them to also achieve their qualifications."

But it will take longer than the time they have left and they could be working through the summer months to get there - even with delayed exams.

That was why he was disappointed Auckland schools had not had more of a say in education decisions.

"In some ways, it's a shame that people on the ground who are actually facing this stuff aren't being poured into advisory groups, Or little quiet focus groups don't need to make any noise about it, just to share our thinking and our experience."

Year 11 Dean and senior science teacher Adrel Adams said today was a relief after rocky remote learning.

"It's been up and down I had a decent turn out at about 60 percent and then there was a bit of up and down. I'm excited to be back because this gives me a sense of normality and certainty I can do something with my students."

The school has already held vaccination events and this Thursday there will be another one on offer for parents too.

The uptake has been good so far - but at Kia Aroha College, vaccinations were nowhere near where Principal Haley Milne wanted them to be.

"Of the ones that are eligible for vaccination, 23 percent are fully vaxxed and 19 percent have one dose. It was a real concern for us about whether or not we were prioritising education or jeopardising people's health."

That was just one of the reasons they had not reopened, on top of poor ventilation, worries about rule-breaking and concern from parents all stacked up.

She said it did not feel right to open up.

"Not being able to attend a tangihanga, not being able to attend church services in person, there's a statement from the ministry that says staff meetings should be discouraged, so we were just really concerned about how all of that plays out.

"None of those things are safe, but let's have a whole group of young people in a classroom together."

Especially with growing cases and locations of interest on their doorstep.

"For the last seven weeks 50 percent of the locations of interest have been within a 5km radius of our school site."

The school had put these concerns in a letter to the Ministry of Education echoing the call to have more of a say in what decisions were made for their community.

"The announcement, without any type of heads up then requires young people to make a decision between do they help their families put food on their tables, or do they return to school for a few weeks."