Lucy, 9, Isaac, 7 and Annabelle Smith, 6 show their excitement at being back at Gulmarrad Public School to see their friends. Photo: Adam Hourigan
Lucy, 9, Isaac, 7 and Annabelle Smith, 6 show their excitement at being back at Gulmarrad Public School to see their friends. Photo: Adam Hourigan

COVID-19: How Clarence kids are racing back into schools

PRESIDING over a near-empty school for the last few weeks of the first term, Gulmarrad Public School principal Robyn Urquhart said it's been great to see children faces through the gates each morning this week.

"We've really missed the children," she said.

"This week, I've been there to greet them in the morning with another of the teachers, and they're excited to see their teachers, but they're really excited to see their friends.

"You can't underestimate how important the social aspect is."

The children are returning to school as part of a gradual introduction back to face-to-face teaching, with students separated into different days by their surname.

"That's to help out with families with siblings, and it worked out numbers-wise for us," Ms Urquhart said.

The school is currently open all days to the children of essential workers, and with each different house group attending on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday.

READ: How teachers are supporting their students in class and at home

With attendance down to as low as seven students at the end of the last term, the reintroduction has had nearly 100 children attending each day, out of a total population of 194.

Children in the classroom worked from the same unit of work as is being delivered online, with some parents receiving paper versions of the work.

"We've set up a padlet on the school website which has been there since day two from when everything happened, and it has units of work, information from our library, STEM and other columns the teachers may put up," Ms Urquhart said.

"I was doing a daily video, but now we do a full school Zoom meeting, and we had an astronomical number of children coming in there to say hello.

"We still encourage the children at home to wear their uniform, get into school mode with the Gulmarrad community and to keep in touch."

A big boon for the returning children has been the ability to use the school's playground equipment with extra cleaning.

"We have enhanced cleaning, our regular cleaner who comes in the morning and afternoon has been given extra time, and also extra cleaning from 11-3pm every day," Ms Urquhart said.

"The equipment is cleaned before school so it can be used at recess, and then it's cleaned once they go back in so they can use it again.

"It's been great, when we first came back it wasn't happening, but now they've loved to be able to get back out there."

Ms Urquhart said the response from the community had been overwhelmingly positive, and teachers were assigned to call each family once a week to check in how everything was going.

<< Follow this link to stay up to date with the latest coronavirus information specific to the Clarence Valley >>

A spokesman for the NSW education department said that school attendance was being brought back in five phases.

"The phased approach to managing a return to full on-campus face-to-face teaching sees students being reintroduced to some face-to-face learning in line with available health advice. The plan is phased, and flexible, allowing us to bring schools back to normal while responding quickly to new spikes in transmission if they occur," they said.

"A phased approach will mean there are a smaller number of students at school each day, providing more space to spread out. It also helps to balance the varied needs of students and staff, their families, personal circumstances and workplaces.

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