Schools Plus supports vulnerable students to succeed at school. And with education in Australia upended by back-to-back catastrophic events, the organisation’s work has become both more critical and more difficult. Schools Plus CEO Rosemary Conn shares her organisation’s current challenges and how we can all help overcome them.
At Schools Plus, our vision is that all young Australians have access to a great education no matter what their background or location is. Salesforce is a valued partner of Schools Plus and has been a crucial early supporter of our current crisis appeal, along with other donors including The Pioneers in Philanthropy, a group of high-profile donors led by David Gonski.
This appeal has one big goal – helping disadvantaged schools and students handle the disruption caused by drought, the bushfires and the COVID-19 pandemic.
I can’t think of a time that has been both more difficult and more revealing of the extraordinary resourcefulness, creativity and courage of our school communities. Rather than diminishing the role of our schools, the sequential crises of drought, bushfires and the pandemic has demonstrated just how vital they are as we see teachers, parents, departments and, of course, students work hard to overcome the huge challenges of this unique time.
Among the stories of strength and resilience, we must recognise that these challenges do present a particular threat to our most vulnerable children and disadvantaged schools – they’re in even more precarious circumstances than ever. Schools across the country need our help to provide the essential support so many of their students need, whether that be a nutritious meal and hot shower, or dongles and laptops.
“We have remained open, even during school holidays, to support the students who rely on us for a hot meal, care pack and a shower. We need laptops and WiFi dongles to support the significant number of our students learning online, and to continue our enhanced learning program when students return to the classroom.”
As online learning plays an increasingly essential role in education, access to technology has become a primary need for many students and schools, with the digital divide never more apparent than over the months of pandemic. Laptops and internet access required for learning from home are in great demand, along with the training and development teachers need to succeed at remote learning. These are some of the very immediate and vital resources we are working to supply via the Support our Schools crisis appeal.
We know also from our previous experience and from what school communities are telling us, that longer term needs will be significant and complex, requiring a focus on mental health and wellbeing. We anticipate these needs will include counselling and teacher training, and targeted programs to help cover gaps in learning and ensure vulnerable students don’t become disengaged and disconnected from their schools.
“The social and economic fallout of extended periods of drought, the bushfires and coronavirus has seen some families and senior students lose any form of income. The support provided by Schools Plus will support our coaching and mentoring program which supports our Year 11 and 12 students in staying focused on achieving their educational goals.”
With support from businesses and individuals, the Support our Schools crisis appeal can play a crucial role in meeting these needs, today and into the future. We’ve seen the impact this kind of support can have and it is nothing short of inspiring.
As we all start preparing for a gradual return to some kind of normality with a sense of cautious optimism, this remains a critical moment for disadvantaged students and schools.
Our goal is to keep students on track with their learning as much as possible. We know education gives them the best possible chance to live a successful and fulfilling life and to contribute to Australian society. The crisis appeal is the most effective way we can support this vision. With your help we can make sure our vulnerable young people, and the schools that work so hard to engage and nurture them can meet the challenges of these troubled times with the tools and resources they need.
Rosemary Conn is CEO of Schools Plus.