When Rolling Hills Primary School principal, Craig Bradley, put the call out to parents to help clean up the school after the storms, he never thought they would respond in such big numbers.
“I just thought it was most likely going to be myself pushing a brush around and just trying to get the pathways cleared but we had 60 families with their children turn up and about seven or eight staff as well,” Mr Bradley said.
“Which for me is pretty overwhelming, when most of them were reporting that they had damage at their own properties and clean up at their own properties to do.”
Having lost power, heating and phone reception, as well as a suspected gas leak, which was later cleared, on Thursday 10 June, Mr Bradley said he and some other staff members made the decision to close the school.
With the storm subsiding by midday on Thursday, Mr Bradley said he thought the closure would be a one day thing.
“As the day went on, we started to learn that it was going to take a lot longer and there was a lot more damage out further afield from Mooroolbark being pretty much the whole Yarra Shire really and by six o’clock we made the decision that school couldn’t return from remote learning on the Friday.
“Only five out of 51 staff members had power. So we couldn’t actually run a continuation of the remote learning program on the Friday because I was one of the five, so there would only be three teachers and two support staff that were available on the Friday.”
As power started to come back on over the weekend, Mr Bradley sent out messages to parents and staff asking if they could spare some time on Monday 14 June to clean up the school.
Although no damage had occurred, Mr Bradley said there were a number of trees that had fallen and lots of debris on the pathways making it unsafe for students.
“We were overwhelmed as a staff that the parents came and put their own clean ups behind the schools clean up and came to us even when many families didn’t have power.”
Mr Bradley said the parents went above and beyond to help clean up the school properly.
“They didn’t just clean the pathways, they really gave the school a real big clean up and the trees that had fallen down, we were able to make them safe and pile up all the branches.”
While doing the clean up, they noticed a 50 metre tree that had a crack down the middle and was potentially dangerous.
“It was just waiting to fall and if it had fallen the wrong way it would have gone straight through our building so we made the decision there and then that we were going to take that tree down. So myself and maybe six or seven dads felled that tree,” Mr Bradley said.
Mr Bradley said building a good school community doesn’t just happen, it has to be worked on.
“That doesn’t just happen by chance, it’s every little deposit of good will we’ve done in the previous 12 months and to pull back on that and ask for a little bit of help ourselves, people are willing to do it because we’ve been there for the whole year for them.”
Part of the school’s culture and approach to learning is to view everything with a positive attitude.
“So it’s not just about the wellbeing of students, it’s the same language and wellbeing as their parents and their grandparents and the football clubs and netball clubs,” Mr Bradley said.
“It’s about having that yes attitude and being supportive, even if that means putting yourself out and having to do the kind thing, that’s the approach we’re trying to build here at the school, that you do things for other people and it’s part of being a good person.”
Wanting to give back to the community, the school organised a free dress day on Tuesday 15 June, where students were asked to bring a packaged or canned item to be donated to Nourish Network.
“We still have families and staff that don’t have power and it is, in the western world, pretty unheard of to go nearly a week without power,” Mr Bradley said.
“So rather than us going to families in need and saying ‘hey we think you might benefit from this food package’ we actually ask all our families to go and support Nourish, to either give food or collect food from them.”
“We could have just had a free dress day but it gets the kids thinking about bringing a packet of noodles for someone else or bringing a tin of beans, the shampoo, the deodorant, for other people who can’t get showers at the moment. It’s just getting them to think about others.”