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Virtual classrooms are a "truly remarkable" success

As we all adjust to a new normal with the current lockdown conditions, teachers and staff at ACG Tauranga are doing all they can to ensure learning remains uninterrupted for their many students. From their youngest preschool learners to the Senior College, the move to a ‘virtual classroom environment’ has been an instant success.
Ellen Thompson

The Thompson family have three children who attend ACG Tauranga, Ellen in Year 9, William in Year 7 and Katharine who is the newest recruit in Year 1.

Their mum, Maria, is delighted with the online learning platforms the school has implemented and believes they are working extremely well across the whole family. Ellen, William and Katharine have quickly adapted to the new style of school day and are enjoying their digital school experience.

“We have been just so impressed with ACG Tauranga’s virtual school environment, and it’s quick and seamless integration. Our college-age kids are actively engaged in virtual school all day and to be able to accommodate Year 1 students too is incredible.

“My children miss seeing their friends but are connecting with them inside and outside of the virtual classroom. It helps that they are assigned both individual tasks and group work which ensures lots of contact with their peers."

Having seen the measures taken against COVID-19 globally, Maria felt it was only a matter of time before school closures became a reality in New Zealand too.

“We wondered how this would affect our children’s education and feared that the burden would fall on us as parents to ensure they were still learning. We actually took our kids out of school before the official lockdown day so had the experience of what it’s like to home-school without a virtual classroom. It was so, so difficult with three children varying in ages and inclination,” she explains.

“After one day we were all so stressed and exhausted. Fortunately for us, the next day the government mandated the lockdown, and ACG Tauranga started their virtual online school immediately. ACG staff had been incredibly proactive and had put platforms in place in anticipation of this event – well before the government had indicated that schools might close. Overnight our lockdown schooling experience was dramatically turned around.

“We thought that at best they would be given homework and maybe an online check-in every day, but were simply blown away that ACG have managed to maintain a full curriculum of activities from 8.30am to 3.15pm – a normal school day with all subjects being taught in the same depth and coverage as if they were in a physical classroom.”

Maria admits to concerns about the amount of screen time her children might be facing but has found that, alongside academic learning, ACG Tauranga have also made engagement, collaboration and delivering lessons in more creatively interactive way a priority.

“In my daughter’s Year 9 Spanish class today, they were asked to create a PowerPoint presentation on either a famous Hispanic person or around baking a traditional Spanish dish. My 13-year-old chose to bake churros and within the normal timetabled slot, she had made a delicious treat and designed a PowerPoint complete with photos. After lunch, she was then able to login for a double Science lesson without feeling like she had been in front of a computer all morning.”

Keeping younger children focussed on learning can be more of a challenge, so ACG Tauranga have also included ‘mat time’ which gives students a chance to talk and interact with their teacher and classmates between morning and afternoon lessons.

“Thank you so much for making the mat-time work,” adds Maria. “Katharine is so excited for it each day. Her soft toys are extra ‘classmate unicorns’ and she has them there every day and tells them it's time for school.”

While enjoying the slower pace of life, the Thompson family are happy to know their children’s education won’t be negatively impacted during the school closures.

“They won’t be behind or have to play catch up as they have never stopped learning throughout this experience. We are all relieved that the school is there to help guide and lead the children every day and question whether they would have had the internal willpower to apply themselves to this level of study if they didn’t have virtual school to attend.

“I have friends all over the world and I hear about their struggles to home-school without much virtual help and then here we are in New Zealand experiencing world-class education, even in a pandemic. It’s truly remarkable.

“We now have happy kids, who are still learning a full curriculum and are socially engaged with their school peers. We are happy, relaxed parents knowing that no matter how long this situation goes on, the children won’t be stalled in their education and will literally have a running start once the world returns to normal. Thank you ACG Tauranga!"