When I started working at Carmel School, I was told I would soon notice the benefits of a school with a strong sense of community and during the past fortnight, I have seen this in action. We have been hit hard by COVID-19. With very few days missed during Term 1, this situation has now been reversed and I think that towards the end of this week, we broke the threshold of having 100 students away from school on one day. That’s a lot of missing people in a small school and it feels palpably different on campus with this level of absence.

It feels a bit devastating to me that despite all the precautions we have taken as a school, the virus has still been able to take a hold on our community. Logically, I know that we spend more time away from school than we do on campus and it’s certainly not a lack of effort on our part that has led to this increase in numbers of cases, but we had been so successful in avoiding significant absences last term, I suppose I had hoped we would get away with something similar during Term 2.  ‘Twas not to be. This probably isn’t the place to be too political and I resolved a long time ago never to say “I told you so”, but I don’t think it’s excessively controversial to suggest it was hardly surprising that the swift removal of so many of the mandated precautions led to higher viral transmission rates.

At the High School gate this morning, there was far more time than normal to talk to the CSG guard and Sydney the cross-walk attendant, purely due to the decreased numbers of students arriving.  Normally I greet them, remind them as necessary of the need to tuck their shirt in or do their tie up to the top button, or tie their hair back; the speed of arrivals means that I probably miss noticing some uniform transgressions. But today, I don’t reckon there was a single missing kippah or extra earring that got past me and Ms Dunn at the entrance gate.

Looking on the bright side, in some ways the contrast of the past week to normality has involved various positive experiences and the confirmation of what I had already seen and heard about our school community pulling together in times of need. When you have so many teachers simultaneously incapacitated, staffing becomes a huge challenge, but this is where the sense of community and working together has become evident. So many colleagues from all areas of the School have contributed by covering lessons of teachers who have had to isolate at home and some part time teachers have even come to work on their days off, to ensure continuity of learning of the remaining students. Even teachers who are in isolation at home have, when they have been able to, kept in touch with students through various technological means and supported their learning, providing resources, answering questions and motivating them to keep on studying.

On top of all this, most opportunities for students have continued.  Mrs Bolton and Mr Shadgett have managed NAPLAN for the students who are here, Mrs Shuhandler and Mrs Russell ran an excursion to a careers expo in the city and Ms Lee’s debating teams performed brilliantly, resulting in novice team wins and excellent performances from the juniors.  All over the School, staff have worked to ensure that the students continue to learn. I have quite enjoyed acting as a relief teacher when it became necessary, especially as the classes have had so few students in them and it has given me the chance to learn some more names and chat to the kids as they complete the set work. I suspect I didn’t contribute much to the learning of the poor remaining students in the Year 12 Hebrew lesson that I covered, but they worked hard and were very helpful in improving my pronunciation of the letters of the alphabet that I worked on during my time in there. Year 7 English was also an interesting lesson to cover, even though the students didn’t seem particularly impressed with the mini spelling test I thought might constitute a fun ending to the lesson.

We shall obviously continue working hard and looking forward to the return of those students and staff who are unwell. My hope is that we are actually getting this all over with in one fell swoop and that will be it. I am under no illusion that I am invincible, but I have been lucky so far. As have many other people, I have continued wearing my mask indoors when there are lots of other people around. For me, restricting visits to night clubs and crowded bars has not been particularly problematic, but I have worried about how I will deal with things if I’m forced to isolate at home for seven days. I shall continue to wash my hands and wear my mask and cross that bridge if I come to it.

If you or members of your family are currently struggling with COVID-19, I hope that you remain relatively healthy and you don’t suffer for too long. We shall look forward to the time when things return to the new normal.