Fluctuating attendance, hybrid learning, rostered days off and navigating uncertainty — it is all part of gaining a high school education in the age of Omicron. Shannon Thomson reports.

Covid-19 is in our communities and our schools, with many pupils experiencing their third year of disrupted education.

Last month, the Omicron wave hit Cromwell College with force — one third of the school, or 180 of 564 pupils, were absent from school in a single week.

Principal Mason Stretch said absences had trended down since then, and about 20% of pupils were off school last week.

But high staff absences meant rostering a year level home to ensure availability of relief teachers.

Yesterday years 9 to 13 pupils were all rostered home.

‘‘We have been operating hybrid learning, so students who have been rostered home or at home as cases, household contacts, anxious or health compromised have been able to access and continue their learning through Google Classroom.’’

A move to full online learning would occur if further staff were affected as cases or household contacts.

Staff meetings were being held online and school prefects were running virtual assemblies.

‘‘Our situation is the same [as] for many schools. We are keeping schooling as normal as possible,’’ Mr Stretch said.

Continued Covid-19 disruption was trying for pupils, but staff were providing support.

‘‘It has been a demanding term for us all and there continues to be strong goodwill and a focus on providing the best learning and support.’’

At Mount Aspiring College in Wanaka, principal Nicola Jacobsen said while the current situation was less disruptive than a lockdown, she was concerned about the ongoing effect of the pandemic on pupils.

‘‘There will be a long›term impact — gaps in learning due to less time in the classroom since the pandemic started, and teachers and parents are probably seeing a greater range of disruptive behaviours as young people try to cope with the different emotions they are experiencing as a result of being in the pandemic.’’

Covid-19 related absences changed weekly with a ‘‘relatively small percentage’’ of the school and staff population away either with the virus or as a household contact.

The effects of this extended beyond the classroom.

‘‘The impact is seen in other areas — staff are managing students at school and those who can work online at home, there is an increased impact on family life if people are away from their business or work, and this is felt by the young people.’’

Pupils isolating could find it hard to connect and maintain continuity with their learning, she said.

Pupils in years 12 and 13 had been rostered home due to staff absences and the large numbers of senior pupils away — at one stage, attendance dropped to 45%.

‘‘I decided to roster the years 12 and 13 students home as their learning continuity was difficult to manage with only 45 to 50% of each senior class at school.’’

Recognising the toll on staff, the school signed up to EAP — Employee Assistance Programme — to provide free counselling sessions, and deans, guidance counsellors and youth workers were available to pupils.

Communication around changes to settings and the impact on the day-to-day of school life was key, Ms Jacobsen said.

‘‘Most people are doing well, but as we approach the end of term they — students, staff — are feeling the stress.’’

Dunstan High School experienced about a 15% drop in student attendance and was rostering home year groups due to having a ‘‘reasonable number’’ of staff isolating with Covid-19 or as household contacts.

Principal Reece Goldsmith said since February 26, the school had more than 100 Covid-19 cases and the outbreak meant some school events had been modified, postponed or cancelled.

While he had no major concerns on the impact of disruptions to pupils’ learning, that could change the longer attendance hovered around 70 to 75%.

‘‘There is a clear correlation between school attendance and achievement.’’

Staff found it challenging juggling face-to-face teaching, supporting pupils in isolation, and covering classes for colleagues.

It was a case of staff being responsive to pupils who needed support.

‘‘This may include modification of work, channelling staffing resources to work specifically with a student/groups of students, liaising with home and really ensuring we take a flexible approach to how we roll given that one approach will not work for all staff and students who need support.’’

Maintaining a sense of normalcy without compromising safety was key, he said.

In Ranfurly, Maniototo Area School principal Joe Ferdinands said Omicron had not hugely impacted the school ‘‘yet’’, as there were only 11 cases among staff and pupils.

The school’s primary section had maintained regular classes but he was concerned about disruptions for pupils studying NCEA.

Senior pupils had a week of remote learning due to staff shortages but were back in the classroom, he said.

‘‘We cope the best we can. It’s not easy when we are rather isolated.’’

Roxburgh Area School had experienced a rolling average of 40% of the student body absent in the past week, principal Paul McDowall said.

The school was ‘‘coping well’’ and had plans in place for different situations and regularly communicated with other schools to share best practice.

The absence of five teaching and support staff had ‘‘minimal impact’’ and classes had run as normal — plans were in place if this was to change.

‘‘As with any major interruption to learning, we have put support in place for students at home and teachers are adjusting their teaching programme to suit.

‘‘This will be an on going issue that we will be monitoring closely.’’

Managing . . . Managing schooling during a Covid pandemic is difficult for pupils and staff. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES