For weeks, mum-of-three Lara Wakefield has been juggling her part-time job, supporting remote learning for her three children at home and keeping up with her nursing studies.
Like many Victorian parents, she is relieved that schools are starting to welcome students back into the classroom on Tuesday.
Ms Wakefield’s son Declan is in grade one at Ouyen P-12 College in north-western Victoria and will be back at school on Tuesday, but Ms Wakefield’s daughters Ava and Eliza have two more weeks of learning from home.
“Declan was a bit excited, I think he is pretty excited to see his friends,” Ms Wakefield said.
“The girls are a bit disappointed they have to wait a couple of weeks.”
Victoria is opening public schools to prep, grade one and grade two students and VCE students (including year 10 students studying VCE subjects) from Monday.
All going well, the remaining year levels will return on June 9.
For Ms Wakefield, Declan’s return to school will make life a bit easier at home.
She had been supervising her children’s studies each morning, doing her own work of an afternoon and then studying nursing at night after her children had gone to bed, while her husband worked long days planting crops on their family farm just north of Walpeup.
Ms Wakefield said some days had been a struggle.
For her children, remote learning was most difficult for her youngest child.
“The distance learning, or the home school just hasn’t suited him, it is not his personality and he hasn’t been very happy,” she said.
But Ms Wakefield said her daughters, who are nine and 11, had done a bit better at home.
“The two girls have worked really hard and they are really engaged in their classes, their teachers have just done such a great job,” she said.
Her daughter Eliza Wakefield said she still preferred going to school than learning at home.
“It is much easier to learn because if you have questions they can be answered really quickly,” she said.
VCE students return to finish their school studies
At Dandenong High School in Melbourne’s outer south-east, principal Susan Ogden said it felt like the school was coming back to life.
“I have been here just about every day with 10 people in buildings that are built for 2,000,” she said.
Students at Dandenong High School told the ABC they could not wait to see their friends after weeks separated.
Year 12 student Abas Hassani said it had been an unusual way to finish his schooling.
“To put it all into one word it would be different, it has been so different from what we are used to,” he said.
Mr Hassani said he had missed his friends while studying from home, as well as taking part in athletics and PE classes.
But he said there had also been positives.
“I think this has been a learning experience for all of us, we have never experienced something like this before,” he said.
“It has taught us in general how to tackle new challenges.”
His fellow year 12 student Nishadi Wathiyage said remote learning had helped some of her classmates who were usually quiet or shy at school to speak up.
“In my class I was very surprised by how many students were actually being involved in class discussions,” she said.
“I feel like it will be beneficial when we come back to on-site learning.”
She said many students had built stronger relationships with their teachers and fellow students while they all went through remote learning together.
“We have missed out but I think that is what makes our year special, everyone has become closer because of all the restrictions,” she said.
Some things won’t go back to normal
Ms Ogden said moving to remote learning was initially difficult for schools, because it had not been done before.
It reminded the principal of Star Trek.
“In the early days before we moved and started term 2, I did think of myself a little bit as James Kirk on the Starship Enterprise,” she said.
“Where we were going where no-one had gone before.”
Ms Ogden agreed some students had grown in confidence while learning from home.
And now that students are returning from that journey, Ms Ogden said the school would not go back to being exactly like it was.
She said some meetings may remain online and the school would consider some pre-recorded sessions for senior students so they could do some of their learning before they get to class.
“We want to make sure some of that empowerment some of our students have experienced, remains when they come back,” she said.
Parents urged to be patient on the road
The Victorian Government on Monday sent out an alert to remind motorists that school zone speed limits remained in place.
“Motorists are urged to be patient, stick to the school speed zone limits and take extra care when driving around schools,” it said.
School buses will run and public transport will also be available for students, with extra cleaning.
The Victorian Government said it was urging parents to discuss good hand hygiene and cough etiquette with children who would be taking public transport to school.