A planned open day at a local school has been swapped for a virtual tour while students learn at home.
Taranaki Diocesan School for Girls principal Matt Coleman says Covid-19 restrictions have meant the cancellation of two planned open days over the past 18 months.
"We generally run an autumn open day in March and a spring one in September each year. Last year, the March event had to be cancelled because of the 2020 lockdown and now the one planned for Wednesday, September 1, has had to be cancelled as well."
Going by previous numbers, Matt says about 40 families would probably have attended the event this week, with a similar number attending each of the past open days the school has held.
While this week's open day isn't going ahead, over 100 people have already toured the school in the past week, with that number increasing daily, says Matt.
Instead of physically walking through the school, they have been experiencing all Taranaki Diocesan has to offer from the comfort of their own homes, with a virtual tour loaded on the school's website and Facebook page.
"This virtual tour was created as a result of the 2020 lockdown when we had to cancel our autumn open day. A number of other learning institutes such as universities had created one and we felt this was a great way to continue to showcase our school at a time when having visitors on site was impractical."
When the virtual tour was first uploaded last year, it had nearly 1500 views, and this time it has already had 400 views just on the first day, he says.
Having a pre-recorded virtual tour of the school to hand wasn't the only clever bit of forward planning the school community is benefiting from during the Covid-19 situation. Students are once again having to learn remotely, something they have been well prepared for thanks to some practice days around it, says Matt.
Since the 2020 lockdown the school has regularly held "remote learning days", he says, where students work from home instead of their classroom on certain days during the school year.
"The idea behind the practice remote learning days was that we knew there was a high probability that Aotearoa NZ would experience another lockdown - more when rather than if. Reflecting on the challenges we experienced the first time around gave us a platform to address these challenges – for some of us it was like going back to being a beginning teacher."
The remote learning days were carefully scheduled to fit in around the school calendar, he says, to ensure their boarding students weren't constantly having to travel between school and home.
It's not just the students who have been learning from the experience, but the staff too, says Matt, and they have been adjusting their teaching to suit it.
"One thing that we recognised as a school community is that we couldn't make assumptions for people's lives during lockdown. Some of our students became the primary caregivers at home because parents were essential workers and had to be away during the day. Expecting students to work to a traditional timetable would not work for all. More flexibility in students' learning was necessary."
This has been achieved in a variety of ways, he says, from teachers uploading video lessons for students to access at a time that suits them, to using group discussions or blogs for students to work with one another, despite the distance.
"Because of the size of our school it is very easy for us to monitor the engagement and progress of our learners whilst in lockdown. Remote learning is also a time to explore different ways of connecting with our students and community. It is amazing to see what different schools do and their willingness to share ideas and resources."
The wider school community was also key when it came to the snap lockdown announcement last month, he says.
"We were very lucky in that all of our boarders managed to get home that night. Some of our distant boarders, rather than going home, went to their homestay families. We had amazing offers of support from the community to help us with the logistics of getting 40- plus students home with minimal notice."
The virtual tour can be viewed online at www.taranakidio.school.nz/our-school/virtual-tour/