With exams on the horizon and Auckland students once again having to study in a Covid-19 lockdown, the city's prefects are determined to let their peers know they're there for them.
That's what spurred Howick College head boy Krish Patel and head girl Hannah Milo to virtually bring together nearly 100 student leaders from about 45 secondary schools across Auckland to feature in a five-minute Instagram video encouraging students to care for their mental wellbeing.
The video has racked up more than 21,000 views in just over a week.
“I was sitting in my room talking in the local prefects’ group chat, and we were talking about how it was becoming harder and harder for people to connect with others during this time,” Patel said.
So, he started reaching out to as many student leaders as he knew. Those prefects, in turn, then began to contact prefects they knew.
“I thought the message of unity and coming together would give students the message that they’re not alone in separate school students, that they’re part of a wider group,” Patel said.
But, while the team had tried its best, Patel recognised they weren’t able to reach every school in Auckland because of how quickly the video was put together.
Manurewa High School head boy Beitor Li and Diocesan School for Girls head prefect Charlotte Hulme were among those in the video.
Li said it was somewhat comforting, in a way, to find that students around the city were “basically going through similar experiences” when the group came together for the video project.
Hulme said the video was the first time this year prefects from around the city got together to work on a single project.
“I think that students also look up to head students as well. So, the message we had was going to be more powerful coming from students … because they know us, and it’s like we’re leading by example,” she said.
While the three students said it was easier this time around to get back to studying in lockdown yet again, there were still a few challenges.
“I haven’t worried as much [as last year] because it’s not like the content of the exams last year was changed [because of lockdown]. Personally, I was still able to achieve what I wanted to with my results,” Patel said.
“Going into this year, knowing that I was still able to achieve good results through lockdown learning and the disruptions, it’s made it a lot less worrying to me.
“It’s still stressful, but I’m not so worried anymore that it’s going to carry over in the long-term.”
He said he was among many students who felt “uneasy” at first when the whole country was plunged into Alert Level 4.
“But, I actually feel quite lucky because all of the teachers I have, I had last year as well. So, they’re all quite well-adapted to online learning.”
Hulme said some of her peers were finding it difficult to stay motivated at home when they were by themselves.
“You don’t have your classmates there. It can be a good thing because you can get more things done sometimes, but then it can be really challenging, especially in subjects like maths.
“Trying to teach maths through technology is super difficult,” she said.
But, there were some positives too, Hulme said.
“Some people are really enjoying [lockdown]. They love the aspect of getting outside and having more time to do things for themselves.”
She said her teachers were “legends of the lockdown” and were constantly checking in with everyone to make sure they were OK.
Li echoed the sentiment and said his teachers were “amazing”.
He said a few of his friends were stressed about their studies “because Year 13 is probably the most crucial year if you want to go to uni”.
“So, yeah, a lot of my friends are saying they wish they could go back two years when there was no such thing as Covid.”
Li worried that history would repeat at Manurewa High School once lockdowns began to lift.
Last year, 1News reported that as many as 200 students at Manurewa High, the largest decile one school in the country, hadn’t returned to the classroom after the first lockdown.
“A lot of students had been dropping out and finding jobs to support their family because, financially, it’s been quite difficult since last year’s sudden lockdown,” Li said.
“Hopefully, we’ll try to continue to motivate our students to keep striving.
“But, yeah, it’s just the financial stability for their families, and they just want to support them.”
NCEA postponement gets mixed responses from students
In response to the disruption caused by the Delta outbreak, NZQA moved NCEA exams back by two weeks nationwide.
It meant exams were now being held between Monday 22 November and Tuesday 14 December. Deadlines for portfolio submissions for subjects like visual arts have also been delayed a fortnight.
Education Minister Chris Hipkins also announced last year’s Learning Recognition Credits scheme would be introduced for students who have had in-person learning disrupted by Alert Level 3 or 4 for 20 or more school days.
The scheme gives students an additional credit for every five they earned towards NCEA, up to a certain limit, and lowers the thresholds for endorsements and University Entrance.
There’s now a petition, signed by more than 7000 people, to extend Learning Recognition Credits to the entire country, regardless of whether the 20-day threshold was reached.
Patel, Hulme, and Li said the extra credits scheme was widely welcomed by their peers. But, as for the changes to exam dates, there were mixed views. While some welcomed the extra time to study, others weren’t happy.
Hulme said she knew many students who were planning to work over the summer to save up for university.
But, she said some also welcomed the opportunity to have more face-to-face time in the classroom before having to take their exams.
Li said there was a risk the extra two weeks could “put additional stress on revision”.
“Personally, and some others I’ve talked to, with that extra time, it’s just more time to burn out because studying [for the exams] already feels like quite a long process,” he said.
“So, it’s a really polarising [change]. It’s definitely good for some people, but then for a lot of others, they don’t know if it’ll help.”