The first year of high school is notoriously stressful – for many, it means a new school, having to make new friends and adapt to a whole new way of learning.
For Melbourne’s year 7s, it has been even more difficult: most have spent only two weeks on campus, having missed about 17 weeks of face-to-face classes due to coronavirus lockdowns.
After months of learning in 2D, they will return to the classroom on Monday, and for many it's a nervous moment.
Year 7 Sophie Ballinger, a student at Ivanhoe Grammar School, changed schools at the start of the year and says it had been tough to settle in online.
Sophie Ballinger, year 7 at Ivanhoe Grammar School, with her dad Steve, sister Alice and dogs Milo and Charlie. Credit:Jason South
“It’s a bit hard, because I went to school with not very many friends,” she says, adding that she had managed to forge some connections through cyberspace.
Ms Ballinger’s dad Steve says he and his wife Louise are impressed by what their daughters have managed throughout the year despite remote learning.
“For all of us, the isolation was difficult and new, but overall my wife and I are very proud of both of our daughters, of how they’ve endured and even made the most of it,” he says.
“We are happy that she’s returning to face-to-face learning, but also aware that the danger has not gone yet,” Mr Ballinger says.
Professor Helen Cahill from the Melbourne Graduate School of Education says year 7 is a vital transitional time for students, especially in terms of connecting with each other and understanding themselves.
“They join a new school community usually, and come from different places, so the social connection process of year 7 is really important,” Professor Cahill says.
“When students come back to school face to face [on Monday], there’s a lot of missing pieces in the jigsaw puzzle they would normally use to make sense of how they’re going.
“There’s a lot of research that shows the stronger the students’ sense of connectedness to the school, which includes connectedness to peers, to teachers and to learning, then the better outcomes will be for mental health, and the better their learning outcomes [will be].”
Hope Araujo Machado, a year 7 student at Gleneagles Secondary College in Endeavour Hills, says returning to school next week will help her focus more on her work.
“Coming into year 7, I thought it was just going to be normal going to school, but it was a bit weird doing school from home," she says.
“I’m excited to get back.”
Her father, Nuno, says it has been nice to have all the family at home, but that Hope had missed the social connection.
“She loves chatting and talking and mingling with friends – for them, meeting new kids from different schools coming into year 7 is a big step,” he says.
“She’ll grow, that’s my main thing: growing as a good person and as a kind-hearted person, and I think school brings that out in them.”
Ivanhoe Grammar School principal Gerard Foley says the school will focus on students’ wellbeing, academic engagement, health and safety when they return to campus next week.
“Year 7 is such an important year in the students’ transition to middle years and like so many other aspects of 2020, it hasn’t turned out as any of us expected,” Mr Foley says.
“We are in the process of working with our teachers to collect feedback, alongside internal assessment and benchmarking data from various sources regarding our students.
“This will assist us greatly in evaluating their progress over the past nine months, to identify strategies to be put into place for the rest of this year and into 2021 to support all our students as needed.”
Sophie Ballinger says despite all of things she will now have to do differently at school, like wear a mask and sanitise often, she’s still happy to be going back.
“I want things to go back to normal and be able to stay in the classroom,” she says.
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