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Schools to get help from permanent natural disaster 'Response and Recovery' team

Thursday April 29, 2021 - 05:53 EST
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Wytaliba Public School on the NSW Northern Tablelands was destroyed by a bushfire in 2019. - ABC

Schools are often at the forefront of helping children cope with difficult events and they have had plenty to work through in recent years ? with almost back-to-back natural disasters of drought, bushfires and floods in some areas.

In NSW, schools will now have better resources to help cope with future disasters after a decision to make a Response and Recovery team, set up in the wake of the 2019/2020 bushfires, permanent.

One of the schools that will benefit is Glenreagh Public School, in NSW's Clarence Valley.

The 62-pupil school was threatened by bushfires in 2019 and the community also experienced drought, before being hit by flooding.

"We bookended 2020 with floods, we also had them at the beginning of this year, and the pandemic thrown in along the way, too," principal Jodie Hayes said.

"Honestly, in my 30-year career, this has been probably the most complex and difficult two years I've ever experienced, and I doubt I'll have to experience again ? I hope not anyway."

Education Minister Sarah Mitchell said many schools had been hit with major challenges multiple times and they wanted to have permanent support in place.

"So we will continue to have that expertise and rely on people who know how to support schools through challenging times," she said.

"They will be able to do that and be very swiftly called to action if and when we see another disaster hit us in NSW.

"It's about having that support for principals, knowing they can go to someone who understands what they are going through, someone who has experience in helping schools recover."

The team will sit within the Government's Regional, Rural and Remote Policy Unit.

More than bricks and mortar

Ms Mitchell said schools played a vital role in communities during emergencies and natural disasters.

"We can't underestimate how important it is to keep our schools open, to reopen them as soon as we can if there are any of those natural disasters," Ms Mitchell said.

"Schools really are the centre of our communities, particularly in our regional communities, our smaller towns and villages.

"It makes such a big difference to the wellbeing of the community when the school is there, when the kids have somewhere to go, when parents can chat at school drop-off and people can look after each other."

The Response and Recovery team will assist schools with tangible teaching methods, remote learning techniques, infrastructure needs, evacuation protocols and safety measures.

There will also be a strong focus on mental health and wellbeing for principals, staff and students, which Ms Hayes said was crucial.

"I think we get very focused on rebuilding ? there's a lot of attention paid to that resource side and not necessarily to the emotional side of what's going on," she said.

"The ramifications can come out later too, you're not necessarily going to react to a traumatic event when it happens.

"So it is really important that we monitor our kids and have those conversations and check that they're continuing to do ok."

Schools learning from each other

151 bushfire-affected school leaders, students and recovery experts met recently to share experiences of natural disasters and what they had learnt from them.

"The stories were quite heartbreaking, you're holding back the tears, with principals talking about loss of life in their communities, and the impact of that," Ms Hayes said.

"Coming together to share those stories and know that we can keep moving forward but with support from one another has been a fantastic thing."


© ABC 2021

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