Whenever we have to endure something difficult, there is the joy that comes when it is over. Today, as music flows through the mansion again and the sound of girls laughing and talking fills the air, we know – once again – the happiness that comes from a return to school after a period of lockdown. It was delightful to see all students and staff back on site today, returning to classrooms and activities with energy and enthusiasm. Despite the joys of being back together, the impact of the COVID-19 situation is still being heavily felt and continues to impact our community in a variety of ways. Having met (on line of course!) today with Anglican principals from across Melbourne in a gathering hosted by the Archbishop, I was reminded that many of the challenges that girls, staff and families are encountering here at Lowther Hall are shared in other schools and setting across the State. There is a far-reaching emotional cost that has been paid as a result of this health crisis. Whilst early on, many of the concerns were about the academic impact on our girls due to long periods of remote learning, in terms of learning outcomes, things are well on track for a full recovery. This is in part because at Lowther Hall so much of our program was able to be converted to an on-line context. We have highly skilled practitioners working right across the School, and excellent programs and interventions that can identify and remedy situations where learning has been compromised. As the year goes on, and further assessments are undertaken, we will continue to build data that will allow us to respond to the learning needs of our girls as they move forward. Last years’ VCE results are a good indication that even under the most trying of circumstances, our girls can be supported to be academically highly successful.

The more concerning impact of the COVID-19 lockdowns and associated compromise to face to face programs, is in the social and emotional space. We know that many girls continue to manage the disappointment of trips not taken and camps not held. Some have lost confidence in navigating friendships or in bouncing back after a challenge or mistake. Others have become overwhelmed by their own thoughts or by the routines of school that bring particular expectations. Part of what a school experience offers, is life experience. At school, girls encounter deadlines, competing priorities, difficult personalities and the complexities of human interaction. By navigating these things, they develop strength of character and the confidence to enter the adult world. School is like the journey out of the cocoon for the butterfly – it is the struggle that puts strength in the wings to ultimately support survival and flourishing. This is what has been lost. For some, these little challenges have become overwhelming. It is important that we continue to normalise them so that our girls can continue to flex their wings in a supportive environment where difficulties are encountered but can be overcome, time can be managed, priorities can be identified and mistakes can be recovered from. We will continue to support the girls to do these things as much as we can.

One of the other things that has been compromised during the COVID-19 period is our capacity to serve. Special events to raise awareness for various charities have had to be postponed and the girls have had fewer opportunities to carry out service or fundraising endeavours. I, too, have missed these opportunities. For this reason, I decided to participate in the Vinnie’s CEO Sleepout this year. The CEO Sleepout is an annual event hosted by the St Vincent de Paul Society to raise money for people experiencing homelessness or at risk of finding themselves without a safe place to call home. The money raised by the event goes to Vinnies’ not-for-profit services, which include food, accommodation, education, counselling, employment and health programs. I will be joining other principals, business, government and community leaders across Australia in sleeping out next Thursday night, 17 June. The event was scheduled to take place outdoors in the CBD but unfortunately has had to revert to a virtual event, so I will be undertaking the event at home. I think the event will still be an opportunity to raise awareness and funds to ensure that Vinnies’ vital services can stay up and running – meeting the increasing demand due to COVID-19, job losses, and other social and economic pressures, that keep homelessness on the rise. Please feel free to make a donation to my "sleeping out efforts" at https://www.ceosleepout.org.au/fundraisers/elisabe... I hope that the girls will be inspired to continue to find ways in which they can live out our school motto, despite the challenges of restrictions, as the year unfolds.

Ms Elisabeth Rhodes