A new twist on ‘school of the air’

Wednesday 13 May, 2020

Sophie Laing

When Sophie Laing started school in Year 7 at Pymble Ladies’ College this year, she was prepared for a big change – from farm life in regional Australia, to a boarding school in the city.

Her family farms wheat and livestock in Central Western NSW, and Sophie’s primary schooling was at the tiny Tullamore Central school in the nearby town, which had just 67 students enrolled in 2018 (and where her mum, Carmel, is a teacher.)

The drought hit hard in Tullamore and when Sophie left for the city in February, everything was dry.

It didn’t take long for Sophie to settle in at Pymble and she soon had a firm group of friends of more than a dozen Year 7 Boarding students, along with other classmates.

But the world changed around her as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic – by Week 8, Pymble Boarders were among the first students to return to their homes, confident that the school had systems in place to support remote learning.

“Even though Boarding students were the first to head home, we were given a lot of instructions on using the virtual classrooms in Microsoft Teams and so it all worked pretty well from the very first week,” Sophie said.

“There were still students in the classroom back at Pymble while we were online, so it felt a bit weird at first, but it got a lot smoother and it’s surprising how quickly you get used to it.”

While she is missing school, Sophie said one of the best things about returning home was catching sight of her dad, who met the bus when she returned, then seeing the green fields of the family farm after some rain had finally fallen.

There was even enough water in the dam to get her kayak out – and some new kittens to play with.

Sophie said her teachers have been creative about online learning.

“In PE we had an online workout video, we even did some of our assessments online, including music.”

As a keen cross-country runner, Sophie has plenty of space on the family property to keep up with her training schedule.

“The coaches have emailed me lots of different circuits to do, so I go through them in the afternoons.”

And even her social life is going well, despite the distance.

“Microsoft Teams has a ‘virtual playground’ so I can message and chat to other Year 7 students and the other Boarders,” she said.