They’ve been through it all before, so how are Auckland students and teachers coping with the second move into level three? And how are other schools preparing for the possibility they’ll soon be doing the same?
Last time the country went into level three lockdown, on March 24, schools had less than a day to prepare themselves, get plans in place for remote learning, and help students adjust to the new normal. This time, Auckland was brought into lockdown on Wednesday at midday, just over 14 hours after it was announced that four cases of community transmission had been detected in South Auckland. The rest of the country went into level two, meaning schools stayed open, but all around the country plans are being made in case alert level three, or even four, restrictions are put back in place.
Auckland high schools had been in the midst of preparations for the upcoming exam season. On Wednesday, they needed to re-employ the tactics they’d grown familiar with over the first lockdown. While most had been braced for another outbreak, and thus another lockdown, principal Claire Amos of Albany Senior High School says news of the return to remote learning still came as a surprise.
“Luckily amongst our senior leadership team we’d already started having those conversations in the last couple of weeks, saying we needed to have another plan and just make sure we were ready. Whilst we hadn’t necessarily produced that plan, our thinking was there so we were well-positioned,” Amos says.
Staff at Albany Senior High School are working from two potential scenarios: that the lockdown finishes on Friday and classes can resume under level two, or that it is extended, and students and staff continue to work from home.
“We’re trying to soften the blow for our community by putting out the two different scenarios. When and if we get the announcement that it will extend, which is quite likely if further cases are announced, we feel like we can assure our community that we’re OK moving forward.”
For schools outside of Auckland, their luck is the extra time they now have to plan for a re-entry into alert level three or four, if that eventuates. Barbara Cavanaugh, the principal at Huntly College, says they’re prepared for that possibility. Two primary schools in Huntly have already closed, she says, which has kept a few of her students home looking after their siblings, but she intends to keep the college open until they are told otherwise.
“This time, the first day the school closes down we will have a teachers’ only day, [where] they’ll be at home preparing material for the modules they’re teaching at the moment. We will always run a tutorial programme in the mornings for the students and we will meet as a staff every morning on Zoom.”
The first lockdown highlighted huge accessibility issues for some students who didn’t have access to laptops for their online learning, but Cavanaugh says having gone through that the first time, they’re now a lot better prepared to help their students during levels three and four. “We have a lot more laptops in the school than we had before, we can get one to every senior student and then the other Chromebooks for the juniors. We’re in a much better position this time.”
Students at Huntly College don’t seem too worried yet about the potential for another lockdown, says Cavanaugh, but they did miss the classroom time with their teachers during the first lockdown period. She says the online learning environment is hard for some to adjust to, but her teachers do the best they can to keep in touch with their students individually.
“It’s all very well to say ‘do it online’, but it’s nothing like having a teacher that you’re really talking to and have a good relationship with. Our teachers here are outstanding in terms of building these relationships and they spent a lot of time over lockdown ringing up kids and dropping letters in the mail.”
For Amos, whose students are already at home and facing the potential of another long lockdown period, the emotion is different. She says students do seem to have taken this second lockdown a bit harder than the first time around.
“One of my deputy principals said [the students] were definitely more subdued this time around. I think there was a sense of novelty on the first lockdown and with senior students I think there’s a combination of the loss of that novelty, and also the sense that they were finally getting themselves back on track with NCEA.”
NCEA exams are one of the main concerns for senior students having to study from home. Ben Humphries is in year 13 at Saint Kentigern College in Auckland and says it was hard to adjust the first time around, but this time, so close to exam season, he’s even more nervous.
“With exams coming up, mock exams especially, we’re all a bit freaked out by the fact that we may not get the credits, or that the tests that we had earlier in the year may be the derived grade we get,” he said. “We haven’t fully got all of the content for our exams yet so there are definitely going to be questions about whether we can get the credits, because we don’t know all of the content. It’s early days for sure, but if lockdown went on for three more weeks I would definitely be concerned.”
He’s looking forward to studying for a property degree next year, but at this stage Humphries is still unclear about what credits he needs from NCEA to be able to get into university. “I would love to get some more information about what we can do, because we haven’t really heard much, it’s just been ‘get the credits’ and that’s it. I know they’ve taken away the table As and Bs for my course so I think that helps a lot, but there’s not much information that’s been provided on what the future holds for us year 13 students.”
Amos says while she understands the importance of NCEA qualifications, she hopes her students are taking care of themselves, and not letting their worries consume them.
“I think we need to, where we can, support students to continue working on their assessments from home, but at the same time I think we need to be careful not to add to the anxiety by getting worried too much about that. In the scheme of things we want to make sure we’re doing the right thing for our country and that we have a community to come back to.”
The Bulletin is The Spinoff’s acclaimed daily digest of New Zealand’s most important stories, delivered directly to your inbox each morning.