Returning to school after lockdown

WelCom July 2020: Following our feature last month about education leadership and pastoral care for Catholic secondary school students in our two dioceses during Covid-19 lockdown, this edition primary principals…

WelCom July 2020:

Following our feature last month about education leadership and pastoral care for Catholic secondary school students in our two dioceses during Covid-19 lockdown, this edition primary principals and teachers share their stories about returning to school.


St Teresa’s School, Featherston

Returning to school after lockdown Archdiocese of Wellington
Lockie, William and Thomas complete a painting during lockdown.

Jennifer Muth, Principal

Lockdown highlighted the power of teamwork in our small school of 100 pupils, split into junior and senior teams. Each team presented work to families and students in different ways.

Our junior team used Class Dojo to message lesson ideas and keep families informed. Through Dojo [educational technology communication app and website] parents could ask questions about tasks and send messages and photos of work.

The senior team used Google Classroom, which all students are familiar with. Most students and families coped really well. They commented this was a great opportunity to slow down and enjoy each other’s company. As staff we enjoyed seeing the photos of family time, science experiments and poppy-artwork tributes for Anzac Day.

The importance of social connections was recognised through Zoom meetings so students could chat with their friends and share their lockdown experiences. These meetings allowed students to developed resilience and understanding that others felt the same way and we organised Zoom meetings where support staff read stories to give parents a break. 

We feel through lockdown we got to know more about many of our families and our families got to understand the work we do. This is the aspect of teamwork we now want to hold onto after returning to ‘normal school’. 

He whānau kotahi tatou me te wairua – We are one in the spirit!


Returning to school after lockdown Archdiocese of Wellington
St Benedict’s School, Year 4 students Aaron Rajapakse, Charlotte Boyle and Emma Nguyen preparing to hand sanitise before entering their classroom.

St Benedict’s School, Khandallah

Michael Hinds, Principal/Tumuaki

Board Chairperson Richard Uerata-Jennings has reported, ‘Throughout Alert Levels 4, 3 and 2, our school’s community were nothing short of fantastic. The amount of support, goodwill and rallying around each other typifies all we stand for in a values-based, Catholic school. I am really proud of our staff and how they kept first-class and authentic learning going for all of our students during the lockdown period. Now that we’re all back at school, it’s fair to say that our school’s systems are in place, our communication is timely and clear and we as a Board of Trustees and parent body are comfortable and confident, with all that’s in place to keep our students, staff and parent body safe.’


Returning to school after lockdown Archdiocese of Wellington
Riley working hard on his home-learning.

St Bernard’s School, Brooklyn

Lisa Small, Principal

Home-schooling was certainly a challenge but one that we as a staff and community rose to well. I had a feeling lockdown would happen that week in March and so we had a plan for what we wanted to send in packs for the children to use at home. These packs along with usernames for websites, which were free to use over lockdown, got us off to a good start. Once we realised the extent of the length of lockdown we began sending learning activities though Google docs. Staff started Zoom meetings with their classes – whole class and small groups with a mixture of learning, prayer, checking in and singing. We also sent a Holy Week liturgy for families to use together. 

One of the nicest things we did was send out regular newsletters. Parents emailed us photos of their lockdown activities and these would be gathered and sent to all families. This was a great way for children to see their friends. 

The return to school has gone really smoothly with a couple of weeks of transitioning and making sure everyone was feeling settled. It was such a relief when we hit Level 1and to be able to hug again. 


Sacred Heart Cathedral School, Thorndon

Bernadette Murfitt, Principal

There has been a seamless transition back to our school post Covid-19 lockdown. As a result of the pandemic our ‘normal’ is now very different. We have been given an opportunity to continue to inject a more humanitarian approach to learning and build on relationships we established during lockdown. The kindness, care, generosity, teamwork, empathy, shown throughout this extraordinary period of New Zealand history can be harnessed to educate future generations to be more healthy, resilient, humane and contributing citizens. 

As Principal I saw and felt a bright ray of sunshine in the way our community responded to Covid-19. We stayed true to our purpose and learnt much along the way. Our world is now different, we will cope going forward as we have demonstrated in our adaptability and agility. I don’t think we will fully understand how hard the lockdown was for families. There are the obvious things like access to technology and resources but I wonder about those who have internalised the trauma and we know the wellbeing of our students is very much determined by those in their immediate environment. I applaud the efforts of the Ministries of Education and Health whose directives assisted us to move cautiously with confidence. I also applaud our Board of Trustees who generously gave their time ensuring our response kept our staff and students at the forefront. The parents and caregivers who supported their child or children learning were true champions.

My sincere thanks to the Sacred Heart Cathedral School Community.


Returning to school after lockdown Archdiocese of Wellington
Years 7/8 students sharing their work on Forces with Ruru class.

Sacred Heart School, Petone

Liz Heatley, Principal

Most students and staff returned to Sacred Heart School Petone on May 18, once we were in Alert Level 2. Everyone seemed very keen to be back and the students enjoyed seeing their friends again. It didn’t take long to get back into the swing of things but for the first week we focussed on Hauora and Wellbeing. During lockdown our teachers worked really hard to ensure on-line learning was simple and effective. Our senior classes worked using Google Classroom. We were particularly pleased, that being in Alert Level 1, we could look forward to our school Feast Day on Friday June 18, and to our school Cross Country early in Term 3.


Returning to school after lockdown Archdiocese of Wellington
Tamariki at home in lockdown taking part in community Lego challenge.

Cardinal McKeefry School, Wilton/Northland

Tania Savage, Principal

Our Covid-19 experience highlighted how Cardinal McKeefry School is at the heart of our community. At every level we focused on the adventure of learning from home that we were all experiencing. Through Google Meet and Chat our staff supported our tamariki each day with their online learning platform Spotlight. We were able to send school devices home to support whānau that would need to share a device for both work and school. Our community particularly enjoyed taking part in our online assemblies, Zoom fieldtrips and our community Lego and Hutt building challenges. Sharing the learning of our tamariki with a wider audience through online assemblies has been a big gain and one we will continue to develop. 

The Board of Trustees reviewed the school’s performance during our return to school. Chair, Antonio Ybarra said, ‘We’re very proud of the way our principal, teachers and staff, with dedication and positivity, came together as a team to deliver fast, efficient and very well-received support to our whānau and tamariki. Our staff rose to the challenge, and we greatly appreciate the hard work they put in behind the scenes to keep our school community together.’ 


Saint Paul’s School, Richmond

Returning to school after lockdown Archdiocese of Wellington
St Paul’s Scientist Sam, working from home.

Maureen Phillips, Principal

Like all New Zealand schools, we were given time to consider what ‘learning from home’ might look like. However, when the day of the lockdown announcement came, we knew we were facing a daunting task that had no defined end date.

As a staff we agreed on our priorities. Utilise the range of age-appropriate communication platforms to engage our learners; be present to our children using messaging, online chat platforms and videoing of read aloud stories etc; and finally, work collaboratively as teachers ensuring all students at each level engage in the same learning. This was to allow for continuity in learning for students should teachers become unwell.

The weeks of lockdown became a celebration of the professionalism of our teaching and support staff alike. Their commitment to the learning and wellbeing of our tamariki and their whānau was outstanding. Photos, evidence of learning and feedback from families affirmed that every teacher had taken our priorities to heart. For Saint Paul’s staff, lockdown brought challenges and gifts alike. We overcame the challenges and the successes have been embedded into our ongoing learning.

Our overarching learning theme for 2020 is ‘Restoring Hope and Spreading Love’. Saint Paul’s staff were a great example of this theme during lockdown.


Returning to school after lockdown Archdiocese of Wellington
Happily back to school after lockdown St Anthony’s tamariki observe new social distancing rules.

St Anthony’s School, Seatoun

Denise Johnson, Principal

We were blessed as all our tamariki were able to remain at home during level 3 lockdown. This kept everyone safe and allowed our successful Distance Learning programme to continue uninterrupted. However, it was with great joy when our tamariki came through the gate as level 2 began. We were absolutely thrilled to be back together again and the school was filled with happiness, fun, and laughter. Although, it was somewhat surreal to greet our two new entrants with barrier tape and hand sanitiser – but they coped remarkably well and before long each became just one of the ‘kids’! 

Everyone brought along their soft toys as a connection to home and this allowed for role play and discussion. Set places at tables and marks on the floor helped us maintain social distancing and the children quickly fell into the routine of handwashing. Out in the playground, cricket, Taranaki Runners, and Jump Jam became activities of choice and ensured we all stayed a metre apart. 

Overall, although level 2 was a great success with us all being back together, it was really at level 1 that our ‘Small School, Strong Spirit’ showed when the first greeting heard from some of the tamariki was ‘Yay, now we can hug!’ And so that is exactly what we did.


Returning to school after lockdown Archdiocese of Wellington

St Joseph’s School, Wairoa

Jo Doyle, Principal

Our transition to lockdown was seamless as we were using several visible learning platforms across the school. Seesaw has been a part of our practice with reporting to whānau so this was our main tool to communicate with our whānau and share students’ learning for the lockdown period. We were able to get most of our devices out to whānau before lockdown. Our younger students also had paper packs, which were distributed before lockdown. It was great to have Fr Arthur Toothill join our senior class of years 7 and 8 students in their daily morning prayer via Google Meets. 


St Joseph’s School, Dannevirke

Returning to school after lockdown Archdiocese of Wellington
St Joseph’s senior leaders and principal Megan Seatter.

Megan Seatter, Principal

At St Joseph’s School our Gospel values are Community, Dignity, Faith and Justice and our community has survived lockdown through these. 

Our teaching and support staff have been amazing, pulling together hardcopy, individualised packs for each child prior to lockdown Level 4 and ensuring all students received them. They made pastoral and supportive phone calls to the families, talked through digital learning issues, made themselves available for advice and guidance, continued to plan engaging and relevant programmes as well as manage their own children’s learning from home. 

Seesaw, Google Classroom and Zoom became the new norms. Teachers continued with their own professional learning and upskilling on the run. I am extremely proud of the way they supported our community during the lockdown period and the feedback from our parents has echoed this. They are appreciative of the learning opportunities provided and the ‘no expectations’ policy we adopted. 

On return to school our families have been incredibly supportive of the new routines put in place. Children have proven to be resilient, settled, and happy on their return. 

While times have been challenging our support network of the Ministry of Education, Palmerston North Diocesan Education team, other principals and advisers has been hugely appreciated.