HUNDREDS of students across the Hastings walked back into the schoolyard this week as COVID-19 restrictions slowly start to ease into recovery mode.
But it is a gentle approach to ensure teachers and students can launch back into face-to-face learning while also maintaining appropriate social distancing and hygiene measures.
At The Nature School, the children reconnected with each other by making damper around a campfire.
Head of primary Catherine Oehlman said it was the perfect way for the children to transition back into the learning environment.
"It is really important for us to allow the children to reconnect through play," she said.
"This has been a trauma for children, they've had seven weeks without normality. It was so nice to see the kids just naturally gravitate back around the fire - they just wanted to chat."
The Nature School will have a staggered return to learning for its kindergarten to year 4 students and return to full face to face teaching by June 1.
For St Agnes' Parish high schools, senior students and infants children returned with enthusiasm and were welcomed across all campuses by staff on Monday (May 11).
Coordinating executive officer for St Agnes' Parish Education, Stephen Pares, said Parish schools have worked with the Catholic Schools Office (CSO) in Lismore to develop a transition plan for the return of students attending St Agnes', St Joseph's and St Peter's primary schools and St Joseph's Regional College, MacKillop College and Newman Senior Technical College.
At St Columba Anglican School (SCAS), all students returned to school with the option to continue learning from home if they felt unwell, or unsure.
All students and teachers were temperature checked on entering and strict hygiene measures will continue throughout the term.
SCAS was the first Hastings school to shutdown after one of its students tested positive to COVID-19 - the first case detected in Port Macquarie. The 14-year-old student has made a full recovery.
At Hastings Secondary College, executive principal Ian Ross, said the community is excited to welcome students back to both campuses
"Although the college has always remained open the majority of students have opted to learn from home," Mr Ross said.
"During this time they have been greatly supported, with their online learning, through the commitment of teaching staff to develop relevant learning material that has engaged students across all year levels.
"With the phased return to the college our focus is to support year 11 and 12 students with explicit face to face class learning on a total of five days per week whilst supporting years 7-10 on a one day a week rotation model.
"This model will continue through weeks 3 and 4. I would like to thank the Hastings Secondary College community for supporting us through the recent events.
"It clearly demonstrates the importance of community partnerships in the delivery of quality education.
"We expect that students will be able to return more often as the government restrictions are adjusted over the weeks ahead."
We couldn't be more proud of our public system in NSW.- Minister for Education and Early Childhood Learning Sarah Mitchell
"All the evidence and data we've collected suggest that schools give us the low health risk but a high economic output because when children go back to school their parents are more productive and you find businesses that support those schools are also more active as well," she said.
Minister for Education and Early Childhood Learning Sarah Mitchell said a lot of preparation had occurred at schools prior to Monday.
"Parents should have that reassurance knowing that our schools are safe places," she said.
"I'm also really pleased to say that the additional systems that we've put in place in terms of hygiene, the extra cleaning and the supplies going out to our school communities also ran very smoothly.
"If that was an indication of how things will progress over the next week or two, we couldn't be more proud of our public system in NSW and all going well."
Ms Mitchell said the NSW Government was still on track to return all students to the classroom by the end of May. Individual schools could still be closed if new virus cases are detected.
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