Wednesday, 20 Sep 2017

Harold gets a big ‘cooee’ from outback Oz

It’s 8.30am on Monday – a time when most kids are on their way to school. But for students from School of the Air, which includes kids from some of NSW’s most remote locations, despite being geographically isolated it’s a short walk from the breakfast table to the school room.

Today is a special day for the students. A group of kindy kids – from remote outback NSW cattle and sheep stations with names such as Bindara Station, Willow Point Station, Karoola Station, Pincally Station, and Wongalara Station - will be logging in from their homes to see Life Education’s Healthy Harold for the first time.

As far as 500km away in the nearest town of Broken Hill, educator Paula Tooth has stepped out of the Life Education van and sits in front of a desk at the School of the Air centre with a camera and monitor in front of her, awaiting the start of the lesson. The screen reads “Welcome Healthy Harold’.

“It was a challenge to leave the familiar teaching environment of the van and sit in front of a camera and I was extremely nervous, but I must say it was an amazing experience – not to mention the most unique experience of my 17 years with Life Education,” Paula says.

“Although the kids could see me and Harold, we couldn’t see them, which made it hard to gauge their reactions. I relied a lot on the teacher who was standing next to me controlling the system. For example, I would ask “Mrs Norman, who can tell me what part of the body this is?” I would then hold a picture of a heart up to the camera and she would pick a kid to answer the question. I would repeat the question using the child’s name, and then ask a follow-up question.

“Although it is in real time, there can be a delay and sometimes the images can jump. I was limited to staying seated so I couldn't do any games or stretches but we made it work and the kids really enjoyed it.”

School of the Air is a distance education centre located in Broken Hill – 1143.5km from Sydney.  It was established in 1956 and caters for geographically isolated students within a radius of 500km from the town.  

The students’ school day is from 8:30am-3pm. Most of them have a room set up at home that functions as a classroom space, and they have a recess and lunch break like any other school.  

Sometimes they work from books, and at other times during the day they log into the computer system and see their teacher live in the studio.  

Despite these differences, Paula says one thing remains the same – the kids all loved Harold.

“After Harold and I had finished, the teacher was able to open up the kids web cameras two at a time so I could see them on the screen and give them a wave and say goodbye. The kids adored seeing Harold, and gave him a big ‘cooee’ goodbye.

“The kinder teachers thought the lesson was fantastic and kids made comments that they thought Harold was funny.”

This year 135 School of the Air students from years k-6 will have access to Healthy Harold’s lessons about topics including nutrition, positive relationships, cyber-safety, and drug and alcohol safety.

The K-2 classes will access the Life Education program via their home computers, while students from years 3-6, who are in Broken Hill this week for their school camp, will have their lesson in the van which is parked at a nearby local primary school.

The students are among 1,770 kids from 10 regional and remote schools in the Broken Hill and Wentworth areas who will see Life Education and Healthy Harold this year, thanks to a generous grant from the Aussie Farmers Foundation, who support grassroots initiatives for Australian farmers and their communities.

CEO of Life Education NSW, Kellie Sloane said the grant was vitally important for children in the area.

“According to statistics, people living in remote and rural Australia have poorer health outcomes compared to those in metropolitan areas, including a higher rate of chronic disease,” Ms Sloane says.

“Furthermore, we know that one in five people in outer regional and remote areas smoke daily, more than two in three are overweight and obese, and almost three in four do not get enough exercise.”

“Thanks to the support of organisations such as the Aussie Farmers Foundation, our health and safety programs can visit every LGA in the state, including some of NSW’s more remote locations, and reach children who may not otherwise have access to these vital lessons.”

Life Education is the largest non-government provider of drug and health education for youth in Australia and for 37 years the organisation has taken its mobile learning centre and famous mascot ‘Healthy Harold’, the giraffe, to schools, teaching students about healthy choices in areas of drugs and alcohol, cyber-safety, lifestyle and bullying. The program reaches 280,000 children across NSW each year, with 44 mobile learning centres and 60 specially trained educators.

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