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Coronavirus challenges bring out the best in Milne's High community

By Alan Beresford

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CRISES can bring out the best in people and this has certainly been the case at Milne's High School as the year of Covid has unfolded.

The crises of the past year have seen Milne's High School Rector Trish Cameron's team rise to the challenges. Picture: Becky Saunderson
The crises of the past year have seen Milne's High School Rector Trish Cameron's team rise to the challenges. Picture: Becky Saunderson

Looking back at the last 12 months when the unprecedented became the norm, Rector Trish Cameron has spoken of her pride in her staff, pupils, parents and the wider school community as they rose to challenge after challenge.

With schools closed to most students from the end of last year and a return to online learning, there was some overdue joy recently when Milne's welcomed the school population back, albeit on a part-time basis.

Mrs Cameron said: "It's great to see them back, really brilliant.

"The pupils have come back with a very good attitude, they want to get back to work and a lot of them are saying how much they've missed us during the lockdown, which great to hear after a disrupted term. They've been so good with like wearing masks, social distancing and using hand sanitisers."

She went on to point out that the school had not been lying empty since the start of the year, far from it, as the doors remained open for the children of key workers and those deemed in need of additional support. The school has also played host to a childcare hub since January, with up to 18 children a day in attendance.

The reaction shown by staff to the challenges of catering for students in school, those learning at home and youngsters in the childcare hub is one Mrs Cameron highlighted as typifying how they have triumphed over the challenges the last 12 months have thrown at them.

"What we've achieved has been made possible because the team stepped up and went far beyond their contractual obligations," she continued.

"It's been a fine balancing act between meeting the needs of pupils in school, those at home and those in childcare. Our part-time and supply staff, helped by volunteer full-time teachers and classroom assistants, showed real strength in bringing together a support package for childcare providing a wide range of activities."

School staff have not been immune to the pressures three lockdowns over the last year have brought, not least homeschooling their own children, arranging childcare and a host of other worries and hurdles.

Mrs Cameron said that the school had formulated a lockdown protocol, taking account of pupil, parent and staff feedback. . With the announcement that schools would not reopen after the Christmas holidays this was put into play.

"Staff have done their very best given the circumstances.

"Many have families while others have care responsibilities. There're members of staff who have connectivity issues where they live or don't have a good mobile phone signal.

"Staff who can't work from home for whatever reason have been given the opportunity to come into school."

Much opinion has been generated about homeschooling online since schools across the country were ordered to shut last March ahead of the lockdown proper, some of it more informed that others.

Remote learning, stated Mrs Cameron, is not an easy trick to pull off and does not solely hinge of device access or connectivity.

She said: "Remote learning isn't as easy as it looks, it takes a lot of time.

"You can't just take classroom resources and use them in online learning, they have to be adapted.

"Feedback, which can be done quite quickly in class, can take up a great portion of time online. In fact, just about everything takes longer."

Looking back over the year that drove a horse and cart through normal life, it was very much a case of the crisis bringing out the best at Milne's.

Mrs Cameron said: "As soon as the First Minister announced that schools were returning in a phased manner everyone asked 'What can we do to make it happen?'.

"There was such enthusiasm and a can do attitude, it's what they've done throughout the pandemic. It's said that crises can bring out the best in people and that's definitely true at Milne's.

"We've had great encouragement from the parents throughout.

"The last year has also made me reflect on my own leadership. We've had a lot of ups and downs but we've had lots of enjoyable moments, too. There's a lot for us all to celebrate."

With fingers crossed nationwide that Covid restrictions will be greatly reduced or even gone by the times schools come back in August from their summer holidays, the Milne's rector said that going back to what was deemed normal prior to the pandemic was not an option for the school.

"Obviously we all hope that by August the virus will be under control and restrictions lifted.

"However, I don't like to think about it as going back to normal – as a school our aim is to move forward and we've learned a lot over the last year as a staff.

"Plans will be put in place to try ensure that pupils' learning is back to where it should be despite the disruption of Covid. Our vision – provide a creative and ambitious learning environment where everyone is the best they can be – hasn't changed. Our attainment has been continually improving but it isn't all about that, we want our young people to be happy, resilient and determined.

"There's a lot of excitement here at Milne's about the future. Our response to this crisis has refined our focus to the fact that we are preparing pupils for a changeable and uncertain future."

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