‘Every kid who leaves town is one less in sporting clubs, one less in our schools, one less working part time. The whole town feels it when kids are leaving.’
That’s Grant Haigh, Principal at St Anne’s Central School in Temora, explaining why it’s a big deal that students no longer have to leave the Catholic system or leave Temora after year 10.
What’s made this change possible is virtual education.
The CECG virtual learning program
In 2023 Catholic Education Canberra Goulburn (CECG) introduced Virtual Learning options for senior courses for both ACT and NSW students. This year the program involves 29 students from six CECG schools.
Among these are St Anne’s Temora and McAuley Catholic Central School in Tumut. The virtual learning program has enabled both schools to offer year 11 for the first time and, from 2024, year 12. This is a game changer for students, their families and the towns.
This year’s virtual courses are Biology (taught from McAuley), Business Studies (McAuley), Economics (taught from Lumen Christi in Pambula) and Maths Specialist (taught from Merici College in Braddon).
How it works
Wendy Mockler, CECG Virtual Learning Coordinator, says, ‘I came into this role because I saw a need for rural and regional students. I also saw the opportunity for collegiality in curriculum work. We can develop expert curriculum materials that can be shared. We can get teachers working together across schools.’
Wendy, who has also achieved status as a Highly Accomplished teacher, and her colleagues design and build each virtual lesson with immense care, combining a range of different media and exercises, with perfectly clear instructions and expectations. But there’s also constant support and communication. Organic classroom-style questions and answers happen in Microsoft Teams, and there’s a regular wellbeing audit to check that students have all the support they need.
‘We’re making sure that the students still have a sense of belonging,’ Wendy says.
As well as coordinating the virtual learning program, she teaches economics virtually. Did it feel strange at first?
‘No. They’re still kids. I’m still me. They’re still engaging.’
How it’s helping families
Grant says Virtual Learning is why his school can offer a full range of year 11 (and year 12 from 2024) subjects.
‘The virtual side of things means that we can tailor an HSC package for your child. “What is your child interested in? Okay. We can offer this virtually; we can offer this face to face.” It gives us that extra layer.’
In Tumut, ‘People are stopping me in the street and talking about what a great option this is,’ says McAuley Principal Eamonn Moore. ‘They now have the option to continue in a Catholic school where the kids are known and cared about.’
The expansion into years 11 and 12 is also boosting enrolments in earlier years, as families no longer need to factor in the prospect of a disruptive move at the end of year 10.
How students are responding
Eamonn says, ‘The kids are engaged and happy. They’re enjoying the difference and a bit of freedom and responsibility.’
Wendy has been getting positive feedback from students in a range of different situations, not only those in smaller towns. One, a serious triathlete, is ‘loving Virtual Learning because it allows him to do this in his own time. Learning can happen anywhere, any time, and we ensure that.’
Students are also happy about the chance to get to know young people in other places. Virtual Learning participants and teachers gathered at a camp hosted by Merici in Braddon at the start of term one. Maria O’Donnell, Assistant Principal Academic Care at St Mary MacKillop College, Canberra, came and spoke about being a senior student. ‘It was a great launch that started some good relationships and opened conversations about senior school and aspirations beyond that,’ Wendy says.
With universities moving towards a lot more virtual learning, the CECG program seems like a useful bridge to what will be many students’ next phase after year 12.
‘I think for a lot of them, this is what uni would look like. They may well do a whole degree online. This is fantastic preparation for them,’ says Eamonn.
CECG will expand the virtual learning program in future years. Wendy has already been asking year 10 students around the region what subjects they’re considering for 2024.
‘We’re at the stage where we want to double the course offerings and we will move to doubling enrolments and making it more widespread throughout the Archdiocese.’
That sounds like great news for towns, families, schools, teachers and—most importantly—students.