Posted by Zilla Roth on Oct 23, 2020
It was once again a wonderful morning and for those members who logged in earlier than 7:30 we had cheery fellowship with talk of how to get together in groups in parks so we can have friendly face-to –face time. The date of 13th December arose as a possible time to have our annual Christmas gathering. We were already 20 members at 7:30. Our speakers this morning were Edward Tudor, Executive Director and Paul Barcham Development Manager of MITS, Melbourne Indigenous Transition School. Pres. Geoff managed to log in to us while driving to work. He welcomed Ed and Paul and stated that we honor our partnership with the important work that MITS was achieving.
Pres. Geoff said we were interested to learn how the school managed with COVID 19.  He also congratulated, on behalf of himself and the club, Linda and Peter O’Brien on the arrival of another grandchild, a baby boy Harlon. We wish you much joy! Paul Barcham has been to the club before and announced that he was handing the presentation to Edward who is also the co-founder of MITS. As with everybody 2020 has been and still is an extraordinary Year and both Paul and Ed thanked us for the welcome and support for the last couple of years and the success of the school could not have happened without our help and support. Incidentally while it was 7:30 here in Melbourne it was 6:00 am Darwin time! Very early! MITS is a specialist school for remote Indigenous children. Ed reminded us that back in February, the school had opened up 2 Alumni, one for girls and 1 for boys so that the children coming from the far north of Northern Territory can stay to continue their education. The year 7 students live in a boarding house on Richmond Hill and attend school within the grounds of the Richmond Football Club. It is that only school within the bounds of a sporting venue. There are 22 children, 11 boys and 11 girls who attend some of Melbourne’s great schools for year 8 onwards and stay in the 2 Alumni houses.  In the first 7 weeks of term 1, here was good support but when COVID struck on 13th March there were unique discussions of how to keep the students safe and the decision was made to get the children home without interruption. The concern was that COVID was not taken into their homes and communities. The communities would not survive this disease. The students took with them technology, computers and I-phones so they could continue with their school work This was supported by Professor Julian Raith. One challenge came to 3 girls who came from Gunbalanya, when they were met by their mothers and police in Darwin to find they could not return home. A place for them was found at Kakadu. Gunbalanya is a town west of Arnhem Land 300 kilometers East of Darwin All the other students arrived home safely. In Term 2 it was necessary to piece together a program for remote learning and the teachers got in touch with all the students who recorded the program on their I-phones. By the end of Term 2 a boarding house was opened, the year 7s returned including the children from Echuca and Bairnsdale so that one-to-one teaching could continue. While students had done a terrific job, remote learning had a shelf life. Communities offered support but there were not a quiet place and many parents did not speak English as a first language consequently the students began to disengage so remote learning became very difficult. It was decided to move MITS to Darwin. With Quarantine organized with B&Bs for living and a commitment from Darwin and discussions with parents, the whole of MITS moved North. Some of the children from Echuca and Bairnsdale had never been on a plane. Both Ed and Paul stated they were over awed with the trust given to them especially as all was arranged from a Tuesday to the following Sunday. MITS found a home at Marrara AFL Oval where all the 21 students live on site, 24 Alumni living with families and 4 to 5 staff in B&B. This commitment is extended from Term 3 into Term 4. The thought was that the Northern Territory had the best quarantine in Australia. While Darwin would like to keep MITS, the commitment of  MITS is Melbourne based where there are broad opportunities and schools and while there are great schools in Darwin the mission is to return to Melbourne hopefully in Term 1 2021. Ed continued by saying that as adults reversing the students’ experience of moving to another state there is better understanding of what the challenge children go through by coming to Melbourne. Both Paul and Ed said that they regretted that “our” new building that our club donated to, was only used for 7 weeks but all are looking forward to coming back and using its full potential. FANCY MOVING A WHOLE SCHOOL! Even the teachers some of whom had to leave their families behind, except for Ed who was able bring his wife and baby came to support the school and students. Paul said in answer to a question that while there is relief when out of Quarantine, a lull occurs because of the exhaustion of not being free. The quarantine was different because the students were in a camp with fresh air and reasonably good food. There is an emotional toll but not the challenge of being in a hotel. Another question was would or could they do this again. Being a small school, it is possible but funding would be a challenge. What an awesome thing to do! Being able to get the school and all the students home safely, to keep distant communities safe and to be able use funds conservatively through the good times so this project stayed safe. Pres. Geoff remarked that to be able to employ fantastic educators to better ensure the future for young children was truly fantastic. Thank you Ed and Paul for your very powerful and outstanding presentation. We are proud to be associated with you. Pres Geoff repeated that not much was happening in our Rotary world while last Sunday gave us a little bit of hope for better things to come. He was looking forward to 1st November so we could meet a few of us at a time in a park. The philosophy of people in real life has value. He mentioned that Ron has been working hard on the market aspects with there still being uncertainty of when it will reopen. Helen on behalf of us all complimented Ian on his amazing work on our web site, our bulletin and everything else that requires this day and age technology. Ian your work is stupendous. There was time for Acting Sergeant Tony R to fine us. He does this with great glee and with 20 fines matching us all with winning, losing and anything in between horse races from the whole country race meets, we were possibly as exhausted as the horses! Ian reminded us that 2nd November 2020 will be an evening meeting. Pres. Geoff closed the meeting wishing us a good safe week, to keep in touch with changes and we should remember ROTARY OPENS OPPORTUNITIES
Zilla (Bulletin Reporter)