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Anxiety high ahead of return to school

Bella Greco is nervous about starting Year 12 as COVID-19 cases soar across Australia.

The 17-year-old isn’t anxious about contracting the virus, she’s more concerned about missing the important coming-of-age milestones if sickness takes hold and schools return to remote learning.

A student of Melbourne’s Avila College, she missed her Year 11 formal in 2021 due to the pandemic and is already setting low expectations for her Year 12 function, planned for early February.

Bella has not organised a dress, a hairdresser or a limo – things teenage girls would usually be planning for months.

“I’m trying to lower my expectations in case it doesn’t happen,” she says.

Despite this, Bella is keen to kick the school year off with a bang. At school.

Naturally, she is worried the uncertainty could affect her results but says her school has strong support mechanisms in place if they were to move to remote learning.

Her mum Emma is not so worried about Bella finishing her final year remotely because she has already spent much of the past two years learning at home.

She hopes the school year will not be delayed. Instead, she wants those beginning pivotal years, like Prep and Year 12, to start as normal.

“We all have aspirations of what we want our kids to achieve but all we’ve said for this year is, ‘do your best, don’t focus on the number, focus on the experience’,” Emma Greco says.

Clinical psychologist and Headspace App mental health expert Mary Spillane says Bella’s feelings and those of her mum are not dissimilar to what many families are experiencing.

She reports cases of fatigue, burnout and tiredness as well as heightened anxiety about what’s coming up.

“They seem more concerned about remote learning and any further disruptions rather than concerns about getting the virus,” Spillane says.

She says this is particularly the case for students completing their final year when they would normally have a lot on their social calendar in addition to their academic mindset.

“The idea of missing out on sport, social connections and those sorts of things are creeping up again because the baseline level of anxiety is higher.

“But the trick to managing that anxiety is only trying to control the things that can be controlled and not worrying about things that may never eventuate.”

Teachers seem more concerned about contracting and passing on the virus, according to Spillane.

But worry about the logical challenges if teachers and students are in and out of isolation is also front of mind.

Teacher Susan Howard from Victoria’s Bass Coast College says she and her colleagues are just as eager as parents and students to begin the year in a positive and “normal” way.

And while Queensland and South Australia have both delayed their return to school, she doesn’t believe it will happen in Victoria or that remote teaching will resume in 2022.

“In the unlikely event there is a return to remote teaching and learning, Victorian schools and teachers are confident and well equipped,” Howard says.

“We have had two years’ experience with this now and have worked out what does and doesn’t work for our students’ learning needs and well-being.”

University of Technology Sydney College Associate Dean of Studies, Sally Payne says whatever way students complete their final years, it’s important to remember the “ATAR (Australian Tertiary Admission Rank) is just a number”.

“It was never intended to measure a person’s potential. I have seen many young people bounce back from an unexpected result. There are always options and the future is still bright,” she says.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison says state and territory leaders agree that the priority should be making sure schools remain open but it is up to each jurisdiction to make a decision on delaying the beginning of term.

“We need schools open and we need to see them stay open,” he says.

BACK TO SCHOOL

* Victoria – Monday, January 31

* Western Australia – Monday, January 31

* ACT – Tuesday, February 1 (new students to start one day earlier)

* NSW – Tuesday, February 1

* Northern Territory – Monday, February 1

* South Australia – Tuesday, February 1 (a mix of classroom and remote learning until February 14)

* Tasmania – Wednesday, February 9

* Queensland – Monday, February 7(years 11 and 12 begin remotely on January 31)

Source: Australia.gov.au

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