St Augustine’s Parish School at Salisbury this month hosted a reunion for the 2020 Year 6 cohort, with the event bringing together 33 students who are now studying at Thomas More, Kildare, St Mary’s, Tyndale, Temple and Endeavour colleges and The Pines School.
The morning served as a positive way for students to catch up and share their experiences of starting at a new school and pass on “wise counsel” to current Year 6 students.
Addressing the group, principal Georgia Dennis said the impact of the pandemic had left many at the school feeling “quite devastated” at various stages during the year.
“We worried about stuff. We worried about our families, friends, how we were doing, how we were coping,” she said.
“I think we all learnt valuable lessons and one was the importance of connection and reconnection…once you have come to St Augustine’s you are always part of this community.”
Mrs Dennis said COVID had robbed the students of the “normal” Year 6 experiences. Events such as the sports day and swimming carnival were run without families present and even the end of year graduation dinner was under a cloud until the actual day.
“I don’t think I have ever prayed so much in my life,” she said of waiting to see if the dinner would proceed.
“There were lots of tears at the end of year dinner – we had parents and children in tears.
“For some they were leaving the school after several years and there was this sense of loss…the bond created by St Augustine’s and the sense of community here is really strong.”
Mrs Dennis said 2020 had also been extremely difficult for a lot of parents in the school community, with many losing their jobs. Others from refugee backgrounds, where English is their second language, struggled to understand the full implications of the pandemic.
“It was a very tough year for a lot of parents and with everything happening we made the decision to waive all fees in the second term,” she said.
In Term 4 the staff at the school spent considerable time reflecting on how best to support the mental and spiritual health of the Year 6 cohort as they prepared to leave their primary years.
They organised a “memorable” end of year retreat and in December the students were treated to a new timetable for one day, where they had the school to themselves.
“The recess and lunch times were reconfigured so that the Year 6 children had time and space to enjoy themselves without having to share these with the other children,” Mrs Dennis explained.
“It provided them with ongoing special time to reconnect as a year group and to privately farewell the people and the places they held dear before going off to new schools in 2021.”
The students were also asked if they would like to return to St Augustine’s in Term 1 for a morning tea and to share their journeys.
The reunion on March 15 was the brainchild of APRIM Rachele Tullio who described the day as a “bit like going down your old street where you grew up”.
She said the success of the gathering meant it would likely become an annual event for graduating students.
Other mental wellbeing initiatives at the school include the creation of a garden where children can plant seedlings and tend to them regularly.
Students also have access to an artist-in-residence program run by Pina Vinci.
“Art is essential for wellbeing,” Mrs Vinci said.
“I work with small groups of children who find art soothing and therapeutic. It often engages the children in conversations that enable them to affirm each other.”Jump to next article