Can you imagine being ten years old and living 480 kilometres (298 miles) from your teacher and nearest school friend? It’s a long drive for a play date or parent-teacher meeting!
Meet Julie, she lives on a cattle station on the edge of the Tanami Desert, which is about six hours drive from Alice Springs, and that’s only if you’ve got a 4WD and the road has recently been graded! If not it’s about eight hours. A typical day for Julie starts when the sun comes up. The whole family is also up and it’s Julie’s job to feed the chickens and pick any ripe fruit and vegetables for the day’s meals. Julie arrives in the kitchen with an armful of goodies, including freshly collected eggs, for breakfast around 7am.
By 8:30am Julie is ready for school and sits at a computer, with microphone ready to interact with her teacher and classmates. She has her lesson materials in front of her, which the School of the Air has sent out to all students before the start of each term. Julie is 10 years old, in Year 5, and there are twelve other students in her class. Some years it drops to eight students and in other years there can be as many as fifteen in her class. It’s important that class sizes are small so Julie and her classmates all get a chance to ask questions and contribute to the lessons each day.
Julie has been with us at Alice Springs School of the Air since she was three and a half when she enrolled in preschool. She will continue her education with us until she completes Year 9 at around 15 years old. Julie’s hoping to stay at home with her family to complete Year 10, 11 and 12 through the Northern Territory School of Distance Education in Darwin, but her parents are also considering whether boarding school in Alice Springs or Adelaide is a good option for her.
Julie’s teacher opens the daily Interactive Distance Learning (IDL) lesson and they begin the day with roll call. On Friday there’s a school assembly where awards are presented, birthdays celebrated and messages given, but it’s Tuesday today so they dive straight in. The lesson lasts about 30 minutes, and once complete she can check her year level’s website where there are recorded lessons, tutorials, and other resources to help students and tutors. Julie doesn’t have a govie, her Mum does the job, but some of her classmates do. Julie attends a minimum of nine lessons a week, including music, languages, art and physical education. Once she starts high school, her lessons will increase to an hour and she’ll attend up to fifteen lessons a week.
Julie also has one-to-one and small group Private Lesson Times (PLTs) via the Remote Education and Conferencing Tool (REACT). She loves these lessons but also spends time working independently at home. All up she’s expected to do five to six hours a day, five days a week. Most ‘bush’ kids get this over in the first half of the day so they can get outside by early afternoon as there are horses to ride and billabongs to swim in!
School operates for forty weeks of the year and follows the same calendar as regular government schools in the Northern Territory. In recent years, the Alice Springs School of the Air normally employs around 10 teachers, with between 120 to 160 students.