Classrooms and hearts open


By Taylah Eastwell

After 18 months of disrupted learning, students at primary schools across the Dandenongs are dealing with further uncertainty as the mountain gears up for a month without power.

Mt Dandenong Primary School principal Sally Alderton said the effects of the recent storm had been “particularly hard” on students who were excited to return to school following a remote learning period during the Covid-19 “circuit breaker” lockdown.

“It’s been particularly difficult for students who had already been away from friends and school for two weeks,” Ms Alderton said.

Ms Alderton said the school was fortunate to have an existing relationship with Gladesville Primary School in Kilsyth, which welcomed Mt Dandenong students with open arms so students had a place to gather and learn during the prolonged power outage.

“Students and families were really keen for kids to be able to reconnect as soon as possible. Our emergency management plan was if there was ever a bushfire we would relocate to Gladesville Primary, so Nicki Wood (Gladesville principal) and I put our plan into action to move our students down here so they could have time together at school even if at a different school,” Ms Alderton said.

Ms Alderton said the students have been “really resilient” considering the trauma many went through on Wednesday 9 June during the storm.

“Many have interesting or quite harrowing stories to tell of the storm. Some were cut off in their houses for a few days and couldn’t get out because of fallen trees around them. Some of them sought shelter inside cars in their garage. Some had parents out who couldn’t get home and had to abandon their cars and walk on foot to get back to their families,” she said.

“Just being here at Gladesville to reconnect has been great, we have really focused on our students wellbeing, given them opportunities to shaire their stories, to have a voice in what they do at school at the moment and bring an element of normality back into their lives as much as we can at the moment because many families are dislocated or traumatised,” she said.

The students felt fortunate to be donated food from the Montrose community, with some parents putting together lunches for students who might otherwise go without.

“The Department of Education has been working closely to provide as much support as possible this week and we’ve formulated a return to school plan that will include counselling services for students and access to trauma informed parenting session for our community,” she said.

Ms Alderton said Ausnet has provided Mt Dandeong Primary School with a generator, with students expected to return once the area has been deemed safe.

“The students and the community has been amazingly welcoming and we feel very fortunate to have been able to spend the past few days at Gladesville,” she said

Kallista Primary School principal Christine Finighan said her school was “fortunate” to have not lost power.

“We haven’t lost power. We didn’t have a phone but we have one again now, but we don’t have any water,” she said.

Yarra Valley Water issued a warning to residents in Kallista, Sherbrooke and The Patch refrain from using tap water on 16 June after it became known that a tank had been damaged in the storm.

“Yarra Valley Water have been amazing. They put out the message at 2.30am and I received it at 6.30am and by the time I got to school at 7.30am they were already up here with water for everyone. Then around 11am they bought us a tank to use,” she said.

“There are a lot of people up here impacted by power outages, some people are talking about doing a cook-up in our school kitchen. We’ve been providing lunches and fruit. The community is very strong and they are pulling together,” she said.