Jerrabomberra Public School principal Chris Hunter has been an educator for 43 years, but nothing over those decades compares to the challenges she’s seen since the COVID-19 pandemic took hold.
School shutdowns to prevent the virus’s spread have forced a switch to homeschooling, and some youngsters have barely seen the inside of a classroom.
“For someone who’s eight years old, in year two, they would have only had one normal year of schooling in person,” Mrs Hunter said.
“The past two years have been completely different, and what we once knew as a normal learning experience has now changed. There are students that have lost some learning over the past two years, but we’re busy filling in the gaps and making up for lost time now.”
Remote learning has delivered some positives, however. Mrs Hunter said teachers had upskilled in technology, and students had come back to school more resilient and independent.
Mrs Hunter said 2022 is a year to reset, “with a lot of hard work and opportunity to re-establish a lot of programs that we had to let drop for a while”.
As Jerrabomberra Public School’s founding principal, Mrs Hunter has seen it grow to become one of the largest schools in the Queanbeyan region, with 923 students enrolled.
Now 20 years down the track, she’s seen several ex-students return to the school to teach and others send their children.
“It’s quite gratifying to know that children you have taught will entrust you with their children as well,” Mrs Hunter said.
“It makes me feel like it’s all worthwhile, that you’ve been respected, and it’s an acknowledgement that you’ve done a good job in the first place, which makes you want to continue teaching.
“It’s great for those children to … say hello, and then you see what they’re doing as adults and that’s where your success shines.
“One of the best things is when you realise you have made a difference to their lives when they leave school, and you gain that satisfaction that they became lovely citizens.”
Teaching wasn’t Mrs Hunter’s original aspiration, but it’s where she’s excelled.
“Growing up, I was either going to be a teacher or a nurse, as they were both service occupations where you give back to the community and to people, which is something I’m passionate about,” she said.
Mrs Hunter began teaching year five and six students at Queanbeyan South Public School for 10 years before becoming the principal at Gundaroo Public School.
“Gundaroo was a community school, so [when Jerrabomberra was opening] I saw the opportunity to go for the founding principal role once again,” she said.
Mrs Hunter said she’s proud of the school’s strong music and performing arts programs, excellence in public speaking, and high levels of literacy and numeracy skills.
As well as being the face of Jerrabomberra Public School, Mrs Hunter has been regularly volunteering for the Rotary Club for the past 20 years.
“Rotary is a great community service group who hunted me out the second day I was here, and we’ve had a wonderful alliance ever since, they’ve put a lot of money into the school,” she said.
Mrs Hunter is proud to be working in a community that supports their school so well.
“Our P&C is wonderful, they’ve raised so much money for the school over the last 20 years – about $80,000 per year during that time – that went right back into the school into things like infrastructure, buildings, playgrounds and equipment.”