Our New Normal

21 May 2020, 3:30PM

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It has been seven weeks (but who is counting) since staff and students have been onsite at Marist Regional College and longer still since we have had a sense of normality. With students expected to return to school in the coming weeks we can find ourselves asking many questions:  

“Is it safe to return?”  “What will the classroom look like?”  “Will my friends still like me?”  “What will be different about school?”  “What if there is another outbreak of the virus?”  “Will my child be behind in their work?” 

While the research continues to say that returning to school is safe for students (see ‘Article’). The reality is that many of the answers to these questions remain unknown. However, what we do know is that uncertainty or unknowns often lead to increased feelings of anxiety.  

Simply put, anxiety often arises from overestimating the size of a challenge or risk and underestimating our ability to handle it. On the other hand, thinking about our strengths and coping skills, as well as taking the time to develop a plan for how we might handle future difficulties can act to alleviate or manage some of these feelings.  

Two months ago, as COVID-19 developed and our country went into isolation, there was an influx of information available about supporting our mental and physical health. Now, as we come out of isolation, it is just as important to focus on supporting our mental health. Things that we considered to be normal before, may now, after periods of slow, quiet and solidarity leave us feeling stressed or uncomfortable. For example, the increased stimulation, having to talk to more people, everyday noises, managing multiple demands and waiting in traffic. Luckily, restrictions are being lifted slowly which will prevent us from feeling flooded by all of this.  

What can be done at home to start preparing students to return to school? 

For parents: 

  • Start discussing the return to school. Including, when it will happen and (where possible) try to answer any questions that your teenager might have. If you don’t know the answer encourage them to get in touch with their teacher or Year Level Coordinator.  
  • Try to validate and acknowledge any feelings that your teenager may express regarding their return to school. If specific worries are identified, consider how you or your child might handle these. This activity can be done by completing two columns. One titled: ‘What might be difficult for me?’ And the other: ‘How will I handle this?’ 

For students: 

  • If you haven’t already, instill a regular routine. Including: sleep (consistent bed/wake time), eating at appropriate mealtimes, showering and getting dressed for the day and going outside and doing some form of physical activity each day.  
  • In the lead up to the return, try to go out more often. For example, on a family bike ride, going to the supermarket, or on a walk with a friend.   
  • Locate all the items that you will need to return to school, including your uniform, computer and lunchbox.  

What will school be doing to support returning students? 

School provides predictable daily routines and boundaries, which are all important factors for preventing and managing mental health challenges. When students return to school, we will be working to keep these routines and expectations as consistent as possible, to how they looked before Learning@Home commenced.  Therefore, providing a sense of comfort to students and removing the need for young people and their families to impose their own routines.  

Another strategy that is known to reduce feelings of anxiety and one that has and will continue to be a focus at Marist, is providing clear communication. As a school community we have tried to provide regular updates and information about COVID-19 and what this means for our students. This will continue to occur moving forward and we ask that you too focus on communication. Please contact your teenager’s teacher or Year Level Coordinator with any concerns about returning to school.  

Our teaching staff are planning for students to return and are committed to supporting their ongoing learning and academic needs. In addition to this, we will focus on student wellbeing, by continuing to look out for one another and having regular conversations about how we are finding the return. Our Pastoral Care and Wellbeing Teams will also be available to provide more targeted support as needed.  

A Final Thought: 

It is also important to take the time to reflect on this experience and consider all the good that has come out of these uncertain times. I for one, have appreciated slowing down, playing board games with my family, and making time to read and cook. I am pleased that society has been forced to use technology to become more efficient. I have loved seeing the acts of kindness occurring within my immediate network and wider community, and I am proud of the way our students have developed independence and confidence as they have had to take more ownership of their learning.  

I encourage you all to take some time to reflect on this experience, (the good and the bad). By asking yourself: 

“What have you been grateful for?”  “What have you learnt?”  “What have you enjoyed?”  “What have you found to be the most challenging?”  “What are you most looking forward to in the future?”  “What will you be more mindful of continuing in the future?” 

Here at Marist Regional College, we are excited to welcome back our students and feel blessed to be able to continue to support them in all the ways that we love. As with this entire COVID-19 journey, we are creating a new normal and we encourage you to join us on this journey – day by day.  

Miss Nicole Young, College Psychologist