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Christmas gift for future generations

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As Christmas celebrations begin, many South Australians will be hoping to put the difficulties of 2020 behind them.

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For Kirsten McGregor it was a particularly tough year as she was separated from her terminally ill mother in Victoria.

It was experiences like hers that prompted a time capsule project at Mount Carmel College to capture the impact of the pandemic for future generations.

Mrs McGregor said the COVID-19 restrictions, especially the Victorian lockdown, had greatly impacted her family.

She and husband Randall and sons Ethan and Lucas were unable to make their regular visits to see family in country Victoria, which was heartbreaking after her mum Sandra was diagnosed with terminal cancer earlier in the year.

This news came as her parents were just starting to get over the horrendous bushfires which ravaged her hometown of Corryong, near the NSW border, on New Year’s Eve.

“We haven’t seen Mum since January and it’s been really hard,” an emotional Mrs McGregor said.

“I really wanted to be able to go to hospital visits and medical appointments with her, but I haven’t been able to.

“We’ve stayed in contact with Zoom, but it’s not the same.”

For Ethan, who is in Year 8 at Mount Carmel College and Lucas, in Year 6 at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish School, it’s been tough not being able to stay with their grandparents as they would normally do each school holidays and both said they would miss seeing them at Christmas.

Recognising it has been a difficult time for many in the school community, Mount Carmel College, which was forced to shut down for several days following the recent COVID-19 outbreak, recorded the thoughts of staff and students in a time capsule that was buried on December 3.

To be opened in 2030, the capsule includes journals from Year 7 students, photographs of grandparents and pets, paintings, school newsletters, emails about the lockdown – and even a roll of toilet paper!

Athena Kapetanos, Barry Cibich, John Konopka and Year 7 students Liliana  Harrigan-Nitschke and Rafael Vallecera getting ready to bury the capsule. Picture: Russell Millard

Year 7 History teacher Athena Kapetanos, said the time capsule was a cumulative effort by all the Year 7 Humanities and Social Sciences teachers to “encompass what 2020 meant from a historical point of view”.

“Students learn about the Black Death (1347) and the Spanish Flu (1919) and these historical events are written in text books; we can Google search images of what life was like but with COVID-19 it struck me that we are experiencing history as we speak,” Ms Kapetanos said.

“I told the students that this will be written in history textbooks in the future and your children or even grandchildren will be learning about COVID-19 – and you may even be able to share with them your own ‘primary sources of evidence’ from this 21st century pandemic that you have personally experienced.”

Mount Carmel College principal John Konopka said the time capsule, which was initiated by Humanities and Social Sciences Learning Area coordinator Barry Cibich, would be a permanent reminder of the “unique times” of 2020.

“We’ve been right at the heart of it here and it’s been lived by all in some way. It’s been very personal for many of our families because of the community incidents nearby,” he said.

“About 20 per cent of our families have lost incomes … a lot of people have family and grandparents living interstate and it was really hard for them.”

Describing the roller coaster school year, Mr Konopka outlined how teachers undertook extensive training in March to ensure online learning was available to students. While nearly all students had returned to the classroom over the following months, some continued online learning throughout the year to reduce the risk to vulnerable family members in their home.

In Term 2 the college set up Family Care Teams to check on the wellbeing of members of its community. Each family was assigned to a teacher who would phone them weekly to have a chat and make sure they were doing OK. Some families requested for the service to continue as they struggle with the fallout of the pandemic.

On the bright side, the college’s Year 12 formal and graduation were able to proceed and provide a sense of normality for students.

Mr Konopka said the plaque for the time capsule was representative of the challenges faced this year. Installed last month in readiness for the official ceremony, it indicates the capsule was buried at the Rosewater college on Thursday November 19 – but the event had to be postponed as South Australia was in a hard lockdown at the time.

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