Primed for Prep

Article text
Fun in the 'on-air' room
Primed for Prep
Capricornia School of Distance Education’s youngest students got to know their class mates and teacher, and experienced classroom life for the first time, at Prep ‘minischool’.
By Paula Heelan
It’s 2pm on a hot and sticky Wednesday afternoon in Emerald, central Queensland. Around the room there are some regular, unabashed yawns, a few teary eyes and there’s a bit of competition going on for the teacher’s lap. The Capricornia School of Distance Education’s (CSDE) first ever Prep class at the Emerald campus (the school has another campus in Rockhampton) is midway through its first week-long mini-school. All but one of the 15 enrolled Prep students are here to experience the action of a classroom and to become acquainted with their school community. It’s a big week for these children, but one that will set them off to a great start for their first year of school.

While four-year old Bailey Perkins visited the school earlier in the year for a Prep induction day and has been tuning in from his home, a 42 000 hectare cattle station, Bungobine, four hours north east of Emerald, for daily, 30 minute ‘on air’ lessons, until now he hadn’t really had the chance to get to know his teacher and classmates all that well. This week he has been keenly matching faces to those distant voices and firming up new friends. Bailey joins more than 29 000 children in Queensland who started in the State’s new Prep school ? a full-time, early education program that has replaced the preschool system.

Like most students in a mainstream school during the first week, these children who have travelled vast distances to be here, are filled with a roller-coaster of emotions. There’s a mix of excitement and anxiety as they get to know their teacher, each other and the school environment and routine. Everything is new ? new teacher, new friends, new shoes, new pencils, new bags. There’s a lot to remember and the onus is on their teacher, Jeanette Holbert, to teach them the daily class routine, the rules and expectations and to make them feel welcome. As these children have come from geographically isolated properties with little social experience outside the home – it’s a big job, but one Jeanette is well prepared for. She knows that during the week she will watch the transition of shy bush kids to noisy participants in the classroom.

“It’s all about developing independence, listening and organisational skills and working together as a group,” Jeanette explains. “We’re spending time rehearsing ‘on air’ procedures, investigating and learning about each others’ interests, painting, building, dressing up, developing physical coordination skills and communicating ideas, feelings and needs. And due to our mode of delivery, the children need to incorporate Information and Communication Technologies (ICT). It’s imperative they receive immediate feedback whenever they need it. Using the paint program this morning in our computer lab, they created some amazing pictures.”

Learning from home these students don’t usually have to worry about a uniform, transport or a packed lunch. Their classrooms are usually just down the hallway or perhaps in a demountable building alongside the station homestead. They are taught by home tutors – usually a parent or governess and their hours are flexible.

Bailey’s mother, Kim Perkins, says the mini-school experience has opened a new and exciting world for Bailey and that his social disposition has clearly soared. An only child and in the homestead classroom alone, his shyness is understandable. “Being here and mixing with the other kids has been fantastic,” she explains. “When we call his Dad each night to report in, he takes over the phone, leads the conversation and tells him every detail. Until now, Bailey avoided phone conversations at all costs – it’s as though he has jumped right out of his shell.”

When it’s time for PE, the children line up in pairs – another new and tricky concept ? and amble off to the sport’s ground with their health and physical education (HPE) teacher Warwick Cook. Self-assured and bold, the children are keen to show Warwick that they can run, jump, throw and catch just as good as the older students. There are cries of: “Watch me Mr Cook, I can do it, I can do it,” and: “Can we do that again? That was fun.” To the side of the sport’s court, momentarily in a world of their own, two small girls are arm in arm and are busy determining the status of their friendship. “We’re friends aren’t we?” Amelia says. “Yes, we are,” Jessie happily confirms. “We’ll stay together for everything,” Amelia adds. As they delve further into important social matters, Warwick reminds them to rejoin the PE lesson.

Throughout the week, and much to the children’s delight, parents have been intermittently joining the class. It’s a great chance for them to watch Jeanette and the children in action – and to pick up some tips for home tutoring. Kim Perkins says one of the best things about living on an isolated property and having to teach through Distance Education is the extraordinary closeness families develop. “It’s lovely being able to play such a major part in your own child’s education and well being.”

At the end of the school day, despite 15 hot and tired little faces, the children have eagerly embraced all things new – the immeasurable grins say it all.