Save SOTA – Smith family story

Last week the WA government announced a decision to have all 5 Schools of the Air remain open. This has been a huge win for rural and regional families across the state. The following was written before the government announced the reversal on their decision to close all 5 schools at the end of 2018.

Written by Wendy Smith

Before I start I need to explain that ‘local’ for us means Carnarvon, which is 470km away. This is our personal journey with School of the Air (SOTA).

In 2014 we packed up our life in a small country town in SA and moved our three kids all the way over to a remote cattle station in WA. We knew this move would be incredibly challenging and would change every aspect of our lives. No longer could we turn on a tap to get hot water – first we now had to light the donkey (campfire under a drum of water for a hot water system). I had to wait until mid morning for the solar batteries to get enough power to start the washing machine. And to get water for the donkey, washing machine, and everything else at the homestead, we had to drive a 14km round trip to start a generator to pump the water to the house. It also meant that our friends were no longer two minutes away.

Along with the other challenges of living on a station I now had to teach my children through School of the Air. With the kids being in year three, one and kindy they found it difficult to move from being in a typical school room full of their friends to a school room at home on their own. It was especially difficult for my oldest whose learning difficulties, I discovered, had slipped below the radar in the normal school room setting. He had learnt some wonderful work avoidance techniques and had fallen way behind.

My children felt incredibly isolated and missed seeing their friends terribly but within two weeks of starting School of the Air we were off on our first camp – two nights camping at Wooramel station. That was when we first met our SOTA family. The students, teachers, and other parents were all incredibly welcoming. My daughter immediately made friendships that are still continuing today. The boys fitted in well but were a bit slower at making friends as they weren’t as outgoing as my bubbly four year old.

Back at home in the school room it became increasingly obvious that due to my oldest sons learning difficulties that he was unable to complete the normal year level work and it was causing constant school refusal. I really was at my wits end dealing with a child with extreme school avoidance and resulting undesirable behaviours. After a lot of tears . . . and some from my son too, the school were immediately supporting us in various ways. They were able to refer us to various local medical and allied health professionals (something I doubt very much that could have been coordinated from a Perth based school that does not have local knowledge). The school changed my sons work to a level that was appropriate for him. He was provided with extra one on one air lessons that initially focussed on building a child/teacher relationship, before they moved onto engagement of school work.

After having at least four school camps/functions each year my son has now made some great friends. The teachers have been absolutely amazing with the way they have really made an effort to get to know my son and work on building a relationship with him, both on air and especially on camp. They have been able to build his self confidence by pushing him enough to better himself but not push him beyond his capabilities.

It has been a lifeline for me to meet with other home tutor mums at camps and to have their support and advice as we were going through our hard times. Without the help of our local teachers and local schooling community I really don’t know how I would have survived the last 3 ½ years. I hate to imagine what my child’s and my own mental health would be like now without their support. I can’t see how a distance education school run out of Perth (1100km away) could have offered as much care and assistance as our local school of the Air. Taking teachers away from local schools is going to hurt children and their mothers who have to teach them. It will damage the fragile ‘home tutor mother’/child relationship, as more responsibility is taken away from the school and placed on the mother. Without regular local camps the children will be deprived of friends, the mothers deprived of the essential supportive school community network.

We NEED School of the Air!

Please help us in our fight to reverse the WA Government’s decision. Head to this link to find out about the online petition, Facebook groups, and other ways you can help.

Teacher home visit – walk up Mt Augustus.

Bike week for sports program.

Our daughter attending her lesson.