While this year has certainly given us it’s fair share of anxiety-inducing events, 26 November 2020 is a day that Mooroopna Park Primary School will remember for all the right reasons.
Up against Australia’s wealthiest and largest private schools, Mooroopna Park’s Wellbeing Team won Best Student Wellbeing Program on the national stage at the prestigious Australian Education Awards 2020.
Principal, Hayden Beaton, said the announcement was “overwhelming and exciting” for the school.
“Winning was a great acknowledgement of all the hard work our school has invested to improve our well-being program in support of all our students and families,” Beaton told The Educator.
He said the Award will help the school further promote its clear focus on student wellbeing and engagement across the teaching, learning and parent community.
“Personally I was very happy for staff who have put in a lot of work and I was also very appreciative of all the community support we have received to continually run the Healthy Food Program which is a major part of the Well-being program”.
The Program was launched in 2019 after Beaton learned that some of his students were coming to school either without food or with food that was unhealthy. Since being rolled out, the Program has guaranteed children a nutritious morning, lunch and afternoon snack every day, negating the need for them to bring a packed lunch.
According to the research, only one in five Australian two- and three-year-olds eat the recommended vegetable intake each day, and almost a third of the total energy intake comes from discretionary foods that are high in saturated fated and added sugars or salt.
Beaton said the initiative is more important today than ever given the significant financial strain many local families have been experiencing due to COVID-19.
At the outbreak of the pandemic, the school began shifting its focus from student to “whole of family”, underpinned by a comprehensive approach to wellbeing across the school’s community.
“With the onset of the pandemic, we found that our very vulnerable families were cut off from the usual support services available to them, due to agencies being closed or unable to visit families,” Beaton said.
“With only a small percentage of students attending onsite learning the focus of our lunch program shifted to providing and delivering food hampers to our families”.
The school also found that most of its students were lacking the basic requirements at home to enable them to engage in and complete their schoolwork.
“As a school we needed to provide stationery packs, maths equipment and electronic devices including internet to facilitate the ongoing learning and engagement of students,” Beaton said.
“Although students are back at school and we are almost back to normal we feel that we still need to have a focus on families as many of them are still vulnerable and effected by the ongoing impact of COVID-19”.
Connecting struggling families with support
Throughout COVID-19, a number of families advised the school that they have been experiencing financial hardship and that the impact this has on their mental health has been significant.
Beaton said the results of these issues means student engagement and attendance has declined.
“We are now working hard on supporting our families to get their children back into the routine of coming to school every day,” Beaton said.
To achieve this, the school’s Wellbeing team and teachers have been making contact with families to learn what obstacles are preventing their children from attending school regularly.
“We are then assisting families to reengage with the relevant support services who can provide such things as food, uniforms, support workers in the home and financial assistance to help overcome these obstacles,” Beaton said.
“Our staff continue to communicate with families to stay informed of their needs and to update them on their children’s progress and what is happening at school”.
With COVID restrictions being eased and families being allowed to come back on site, the school has now been able to plan transition sessions and graduation celebrations.
“We have also planned some fun end of year activities and excursions to help get students excited about coming to school,” Beaton said.
“Student attendance is improving as students get back into routine and we are slowly seeing family engagement return to normal”.
‘Student wellbeing has never been more important than it is now’
As 2020 draws to a close, many schools are in the process of reflecting on the learnings that this tumultuous year has provided.
For Beaton, the focus remains firmly on the wellbeing of the school’s community.
“That has never been as important as it is right now. Student learning outcomes have no doubt been impacted upon and we will be working hard to support students to catch up,” he said.
“We have always believed that for students to achieve at their potential, they need to be happy, safe and engaged and their social and emotional well-being needs to be nurtured”.
Beaton said the need to move to remote learning in 2020 gave the school further insight into the true hardships faced by its students and their families on a daily basis.
“We learnt that our students lacked the most fundamental items at home such as a pencil and paper confirmed and reinforced our belief that for our Wellbeing Program to succeed, we needed to be supporting the whole family,” he said.
“Our students face many challenges and just getting to school can be a major achievement. The more we support families with their basic needs the more chance our students have to succeed”.
In the year ahead, the school hopes to strengthen its award-winning Wellbeing team by focusing on the Berry Street Educational Model, which aims to build teacher capacity and consistency around student engagement.
“Another focus is Mindfulness for staff and students and we have recently linked in with the Mooroopna Haven, an organisation supporting families with any concerns they might have, linking them in with agencies and providing families with a place to hang out,” Beaton said.
“We think that we can help support families with their transition to kindergarten and school”.