One is a lonely number

Host: Isolated Children’s Parents’ Association
Written by Lynly Kerin, North Well Station, South Australia.

One is the loneliest number, and never so much as it is in the Distance Education schoolroom of a property where you are also going solo in the under eighteen category of its population. Quite often the picture painted of a school room on a station is one with many pairs of boots lined up at the door of the bustling mini school hearing the constant natter of cheeky students beyond the door who are usually mostly siblings. But in our school room at North Well Station there is just the one student voice, my daughter Elke, conversing with our governess Alice, while her teacher guides them from her desk at School of the Air in Port Augusta 400km’s away. Side thought; even if I was to make that two children via a ‘miracle’, that child would also find themselves Numero Uno in there as by the time their education begins Elke will be elsewhere on her secondary schooling journey. Unless it were twins, or more… jeepers no.

You have met my small family before. I wrote for Central Station in 2016 when Elke was a year 2 student and I was her frazzled Distance Education Supervisor. I wasn’t prepared for the sacrifice it took to be everything out here, and found it hard to distance myself from what was going on at the property, the house, the office, the staff, and the kitchen. I tried to keep all the plates spinning until I almost dropped the lot. It wasn’t fair to Elke to not give her 100% of my attention in there, so our staff grew by one when I was handed the gift of our wonderful governess Alice mid-2017. Letting go of control was tough at first, I didn’t just run out of there and head for the hills, but a year on I have learnt to trust and I know I made the right decision. Elke and Alice have grown a fabulous friendship; they get on with the tasks at hand, can deal with each other’s differing opinions, and while there is mostly laughter coming from the school room afar, there have also been times you could cut the air with a knife in there, which I’m ok with. This is life, where moods, anger, disappointments, editing, times tables and long division (where the moods usually come from!!) are all part of it and they must work through it.

Last time I wrote of my underlying anguish of wondering if Distance Education was going to be enough for us and our girl. Is it fair? Will she get all the opportunities she deserves? Is what she is missing out on made up for with the positives we can give her growing up on the land? The positives are obvious, a one on one education with a supervisor at the ready, small class numbers, freedom to tailor a task to suit the individual, wide open spaces, learning with peers who share the same lifestyle, seeing Mum and sometimes Dad every lunch & recess, pyjama days and pets in the school room! But still that feeling lingered. What about sport, independence, social skills, extracurricular activities, trying things outside of your comfort zone and learning right alongside your peers who happen to be seated right next to you. So far it would seem that this is my feeling alone. But as Elke gets older and starts to look beyond the world we have provided her here, I could see her curiosity growing.

4 hours to our south on a long and winding dirt road through the Gawler Ranges is a little piece of paradise by the beach. We discovered this was ‘our’ place of calm and tranquillity and a place to retreat to where we could wash away the red dirt. Since Elke began her schooling via distance education, driving past the local area school to our holiday home became more significant to me. I started to wonder if I could incorporate a ‘best of both worlds’ approach to her education. Why couldn’t she do both? She had already began seeing this town as her second home, had been to the kindy many times as a 3 year old when she could, attends the yearly swimming lessons and has a few little friendships brewing. Her only issue was her shyness, and while I broached the subject many times with her about complementing her education with this opportunity, the shy little girl from the bush would win out and combining both her worlds was far too daunting. It took us four years of driving past that school and resewing the seeds of opportunity in her mind before Elke was brave enough to make the big step from wholly Distance Education to complementing it with a term a week at the Streaky Bay Area School. Look I know we haven’t reinvented the wheel here, there are many families across Australia that probably do this, but for us this was amazing and a long time coming.

The nerves on that first day were surprisingly mostly mine! Even though I had prepped myself for years, this was something very fresh in Elke’s thinking. School bag packed – lunch and recess totally over catered for, canteen money in her pocket for extra treats when the bell rings and we were off. I was allowed to walk her in on the first day, get introduced to some friends but on day two, a drop off at the beach without even a kiss goodbye to be embarrassingly witnessed and a slam of the car door was my only farewell for the day. That felt good, this was going to work! And what got raved about at the dinner table that first night? Her amazing teacher, her new classmates who were all so ‘cool’. The library where you can borrow new books to bring home every night! Games at recess and lunch, lunch orders, sport practice, play over’s and bike rides afterschool with friends and most exciting – homework? Who would have thought that doing school work at home would be so exciting for a Distance Ed kid!

What she gained in that time has helped her to grow with her teacher noticing the difference and encouraging the visits to continue. This new confidence and self belief can only add value to her education at home in the class room and combined with the knowledge for me that I can make available a well rounded education in my eyes, has given us both a spring in our step and the poise to push on. Anguish gone. The message here is not that every family should do this. There are many barriers that hinder the opportunity and the Distance Ed school room at most outback posts are probably adequate for its students. But for us we looked to compliment the Distance Ed education with face to face. Is there room in her wardrobe for two different coloured school uniforms, you bet there is!

First day of Elke attending a face to face school.

Straight to the library. I can borrow books EVERYDAY!

A pool at the school, things could not get any better.

Things did get better, lunch orders!

Made to feel welcome from the very start.

Elke ready to get stuck into the week.