The Year 12 of 2021 never imagined they would face greater challenges than the class of 2020. Yet, with no warning, they lost their final term of face-to-face learning and along with it many of the rites of passage school leavers cherish. Preparing remotely for the biggest exams of their lives has been exhausting and frustrating.
For Tim Moore, a Year 12 student who attends St Mark’s, Malabar, keeping focused has been a challenge. “At home, I feel like I have a lot of time,” he says. “Staying motivated is quite difficult. A lot of Year 12’s [at youth group] said similar things.”
Naomi Clarke from Hoxton Park agrees. “It felt like we had to persist through the regular routine of school, but without any of the aspects that make it enjoyable: connecting with friends, classroom community, and any special events that regularly should’ve happened – including simple things like band practice that we had gone to without knowing it was the last.”
She says the constant modification to exams and assessments has also left many feeling uneasy. “A lot of other Year 12 students I’ve talked to felt difficulty in having to sit through pretty significant periods of uncertainty, particularly when we weren’t sure whether the HSC was even going ahead... Being stuck at home, only ‘going to school’ by opening our laptops, made our whole situation feel frankly quite surreal.”
Remote learning amid exams has been a challenge
A major difference is the timing of this year’s lockdown, leaving schools scrambling to rearrange trial HSC exams at the last minute, and remotely guiding students through the changes. The HSC is scheduled to start on November 9 – a date by which most students in previous years would have finished.
“It’s [been] quite confusing for kids as to what they’re aiming for,” says David Lindsay, head of the senior college at St Andrew’s Cathedral School. “It’s a challenge for students and teachers to traverse that for a variety of different reasons and, in lockdown, it’s harder because you’re not dealing with the students face to face.
“It’s quite hard to engage [with] all the stresses, and it’s hard to deal with the stresses remotely.”
Another challenge is the loss of major milestones such as graduation ceremonies. Nick, a creative and performing arts head teacher in a western Sydney public high school, describes it as a big anti-climax.
“The vibe seems a bit sad,” he says. “Any time you see the kids on the bike track, or out and about, they’re really craving human interaction, as we all are. [Year 12] is meant to be a time where they’re out and about, celebrating, and they’ve lost that.”
Students are also anxious about future plans, with questions surrounding university entry, exam results and career prospects. “They won’t have had an opportunity to show what they can do,” Mr Lindsay says. “Music students are not performing in front of examiners and not performing with the ensembles they want to perform with. They haven’t been able to give the best in the environment they were preparing for.
“We know there’s a good chance their route to uni will be no different, but if you’re a parent or a student coming up to this point in your life, there is uncertainty about what is ahead.”
What could your congregation do?
Given that nearly all interactions have been virtual, offering something tangible is a powerful way to show support. “Tangible is what students in Year 12 don’t have at the moment,” Mr Lindsay says. “Anything that is tangible seems to make a difference.”
Care packages, blocks of chocolates in the mail, cards and messages letting students know they are being prayed for has a big impact. “A few times someone from my church has dropped off treats [Mars bar slice, lollies etc] and sometimes written encouragement, which has been pretty nice,” Miss Clarke says.
Mr Moore agrees. “My teachers have sent me care packages, words of encouragement, Kit Kats, stuff like that.” He has also appreciated the people from church who have reached out, offered to go walking together, or checked in to see how he is. “Making sure that the Year 12 students haven’t fallen off your mind, [letting them know] that you’re still thinking about them really helps.”
Prayer makes a massive difference. Says Nick: “If you’re good mates, give them a call and tell them you’re praying for them. It’s a huge encouragement when you explicitly say, ‘This is what I’m doing for you’. I’ve always felt encouraged when people ask me what they can pray, because every case will be different.”
His church, St John’s, Camden has made an effort to pray for HSC students over the years, previously preparing a list of Year 12 students from the church that members could pray through. “Even in services, pray for Year 12s,” Nick says. “I know kids have appreciated that, and I’ve always liked that as a ministry, too. If there’s a way you can, get them up the front [of the service] and pray for them as a whole church. Hopefully, knowing you’re being prayed for leads to resilience.”
Pray for the Year 12 cohort of 2021:
- that those who are Christian can keep focused on Jesus, leaning on his strength instead of their own.
- for a reduction in anxiety and mental health issues, and that those who are struggling will still stay connected, and reach out to friends or family.
- for students grieving the loss of celebrations and milestones - engagement, camaraderie and finishing school the way they would have liked.
- that amid the hardships of this year, the students will persevere and develop resilience rather than burn out or become overwhelmed with frustration.
- for the hope of faith. “That’s what I pray for this Year 12, that they would rely on a hope that is lasting,” Mr Lindsay says. “A hope that is lasting sees that what happens next year is one part of God’s big picture for them.”