The challenges of a school that is working in a virtual space are many and varied. At All Hallows’ School, the easiest transition in this on-line world has been our capacity to carry out the teaching and learning remotely. It has certainly added complexity and challenge to the way lessons are prepared and delivered but the existing platforms that facilitate the usual delivery of our program has meant that we have transitioned well.
The questions that had us scratching our heads was how we continue the Mission and prayer life of the school and how we maintain that all-important social connection during a time of enforced isolation. What we have discovered is that necessity is indeed the mother of invention because the staff and students of the School have engaged in very creative ways to ensure that what makes us a Mercy school is not lost in this time.
One of the greatest strengths of All Hallows’ School is its sense of community – the AHSisterhood. Vital connections have been maintained through virtual Year Level assemblies, House assemblies and even virtual whole school assemblies for 1600 viewers! During House assemblies, the girls have participated in scavenger hunts, had talent shows, an ‘iso-fashion-show’ and even hosted online cake decorating competitions. Each afternoon during our Learning@Home phase, the student leaders have issued an email to the community with challenges, humorous memes and suggestions for the best use of their time at home.
Our tradition of ‘Dress-Up Days’ made their way into the virtual world too with key themed-days featuring on the School’s social media platforms. House shirt day and Hawaiian shirt day were particular favourites. Sport and exercise programs have been delivered on-line and Performing Arts classes have continued due to the magic of technology which has allowed for the sharing of performance videos and live Teams tuition sessions.
Parents also moved into the on-line space following the cancellation of our annual Mother’s Day May Morning Tea. Mothers and Past Pupils participated in a virtual morning tea and sipped their cups of tea while viewing the Principal’s address and statements from students about how wonderful their mothers are. It was a beautiful way to gather and celebrate the gift of mothers and mother-figures in our lives.
In a year where our school theme is “Respect Always, Love Deeply”, these values have never been so relevant to our context. Isolation, uncertainly and economic pressures have added to the inequalities and suffering by those in the community around us. While we have been unable to run our Mercy Action program in the usual way, the desire to reach out to those in need has not been dampened by distance. Students have written letters to residents of the local nursing home and sent ANZAC biscuits and Mother’s Day gifts also. They have produced the AHS Lounge Choir video to the song “Count on Me” which served the dual purpose of bringing the girls together in song but also reminding the residents of the nursing home that they are not forgotten.
Our usual ANZAC Day commemorations at the School were also a little different this year. While time was taken to remember those who served during our virtual assembly, the girls also engaged in the RSL’s ‘Light Up the Dawn’ event. Their photographs were posted online and the girls were proud to wear their uniforms for the ANZACs – even on a Saturday!
The prayer life of the School continued throughout our time of isolation and in fact, was our biggest joy. Through the use of the Teams platform we were able to run our usual Wednesday morning liturgies. These 8am prayer opportunities usually attract a small number of staff and students during the regular term but the virtual prayer experiences have attracted above 160 participants each week. This is testament to the importance of prayer and ritual in our lives and the need to connect. As Catherine McAuley once noted, “Prayer will do more…than all the money in the Bank of Ireland” and this has proven to be true during this time of isolation.
The biggest take-away from this time of COVID isolation has concerned the importance of maintaining connection and reinforcing the spirit of the Sisterhood. Even in a world that is already so much present in the virtual space, we just need to be together. ‘Together’ has looked very different for us recently but the enthusiastic response to on-line activities, challenges and prayer offerings is testament to the fact that school matters and more importantly, that love and community matter. These thoughts echo most clearly Catherine McAuley’s words to Elizabeth Moore: “The blessing of unity still dwells amongst us – and oh what a blessing.”
Mrs Claire Easton
Director of Mission
All Hallows’ School