St Dunstan’s College
When schools closed for the start of the national lockdown in late March, nobody at St Dunstan’s College in Benoni imagined that, in a short space of time, both staff and pupils would be seriously engaged in navigating their way through the biggest upheaval in teaching in the schools’ more than one hundred year history. During that time, St Dunstan’s has faced, and overcome, many seemingly insurmountable hurdles and this situation would prove to be no different.
New developments in Technology have always played an important role in the different sectors of the school. iPads and laptops are in everyday use in many classrooms and time is spent improving the pupils’ ability to work effectively on these devices. So when it became evident that distance learning would now be a reality, the Senior Preparatory and College pupils, familiar with using Google Classroom, immediately began their transition to full-time use of this application. They now had the freedom to continue their academic programme with minimal disruption.
For the Junior Preparatory and Pre-School pupils, the process was not as straightforward as they now had to use the online platform for the first time. The key, however, was the co-operation between school and home which introduced the pupils into the new and exciting world of virtual classrooms, which had been set up by their teachers. This innovative approach captured their imagination and facilitated the smooth flow of information for both pupils and parents. The daily educational programme continued and popular activities such as ‘Dance-Off Fridays’ remained a fixture on the timetable, much to the delight of everyone. The originality and creative nature of the Pre-School’s online structure has attracted interest from several leading international educational institutions in the USA and New Zealand.
There was no subject that could not be included in the online programme, and even the weekly Assembly and Chapel service could be enjoyed together by the pupils in each phase. Teachers adapted quickly and discovered new and exciting ways to present their subject material, which encouraged their pupils to think more independently and work confidently. Teachers also realised the importance of strengthening existing relationships with their pupils, through regular contact and support. Most pupils responded positively to the changes they have had to make and also learnt the value of a variety new skills such as time management, self-discipline and responsibility.
While the serious academic programme continued across the grades, there has also been an element of fun for everyone. The Marketing Department led the way by creatively presenting a colourful picture and video diary of activities from each of the different grades. This proved to be a welcome thread which linked us closer together, despite all being far apart. “A Community United”, is the school’s logo during the lockdown and in this spirit we partnered with local businesses who sponsored the prizes for both a Cooking and a ‘Lockdown Limerick’ competition. The pupils also enjoyed some friendly competition with Uplands College in the form of a #QUA’RUN’TIME of 700 kilometres – the distance between the two schools.
A wealth of experience has been gained by the staff on our campus, through adapting to this period of abrupt change with enthusiasm and a sense of optimism. After the initial feeling of uncertainty subsided, it became clear that this online process was not only possible, but it could be done successfully. What we have learned over the past weeks has allowed us to grow as a school, to the benefit of all our pupils.
The most challenging times bring us the most empowering lessons – Karen Salmansoha.