As schools across Ballarat welcomed their youngest or oldest students back to class on Tuesday, every school looked a little different as a result of social distancing and hygiene measures. But at Mount Pleasant Primary the difference was even greater with a new playground installed during the last school holidays.
At the end of 2019, pupils decided to donate their old playground to a school in Cambodia, and when they returned at the start of this year they set about fundraising more than $4000 toward a new playground which they also helped design.
On their second first day of the year on Tuesday the prep, grade one and two students couldn't wait to try the teepee village, slide and other new areas.
As each student entered the school they were given a tree to plant around the playground, and when their schoolmates from grades three to six return on June 9 they too will plant a tree.
"Our children were very happy and skipped and jumped in to the playground. We had very few anxious children - they were all happy to be here and all of the parents and students managed the new processes beautifully," said principal Kate Robinson.
Ms Robinson said every child had a say in what they wanted to be included in the new playground, with a teepee village and slide coming out on top.
Children had also put much work in to fundraising, holding stalls, colouring competitions and one family even organised a car show.
"They were waiting all (last) term for this to be built, then it was built during the school holidays but because of COVID-19 the children have been waiting."
Ms Robinson said having each child plant a tree around the playground also links in to the school-wide inquiry topic of 'what's our impact'.
"They are having a direct impact on the school environment on their first day back," she said.
Pupils at Mount Pleasant Primary now enter through coloured coded gates
Each child at Mount Pleasant has been given a coloured gate which they enter through to help with social distancing, and the school yard will be separated in to different zones. Classroom routines, hand sanitising, sharing of equipment and cleaning protocols have also changed.
Thousands of Ballarat prep, grade one and two, and year 11 and 12 students were among 400,000 students across the state who returned to school as part of a staged return to classroom teaching.
Education minister James Merlino congratulated principals, teachers, school staff, students and families for their incredible efforts to make remote learning work, and announced a summit to discuss lessons learnt and investigate what improvements can be made to the education system as a result of the remote learning experience.
"Remote learning hasn't been easy, but I couldn't be prouder of how our principals, teachers, support staff, students and families have responded to the challenge," he said.
"This is a real opportunity to improve our education system and learn lessons from this remote learning experience. This summit will be a way for all of our school sectors to come together and report back about the benefits they experienced."
Students from grade three to year 10 will continue learning remotely before they return to classrooms on June 9.
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