COVID Reflections by Megan Small

In the following presentation to Cire’s all-staff forum on 9 November, Megan Small from Cire Community School shared her experiences as Lead Teaching and Learning VCAL during COVID lockdowns and how she overcame her own challenges to support and keep students connected, engaged and supported, as well as colleagues 


One week to go in Term 1 and COVID numbers were starting to creep higher.

Schools were given two days to prepare to go online… Apparently, that’s all it would take. Teachers scrambled to learn new tasks on top of rewriting the entire curriculum to go online.

There was much research, sharing of ideas, folders set up for easy access, phone calls, emails, excitement, teamwork, frustration and tears.

I had been in a new role, for what seemed like five minutes, as Lead Teaching and Learning VCAL. My Achilles heel is technology, now I was to lead teaching and learning online.

I studied my degree online, so had some understanding and some resources that I could use to help me get through. Many teachers were less experienced and were terrified to go online with their classes.

School holidays were non-existent in semester one. Other than a few hours here and there, we were all working, all learning to go online.

I ran online classes in the holidays to pass on what I could. Sometimes it is easier to learn from someone that is not an expert, but the problem was I was in a lead role and the others were relying on me, so I had to learn before I taught my colleagues.

Term 2 started and we simply ‘went for it’. We had prepared as much as we could, supported each other and worked hard. We were exhausted before we even began… teachers terrified, students ranging from distraught to excited, internet failing, cameras not working, me forgetting to unmute when I was talking…

With every success, there was a problem to balance the scales.

On my planning day, I would visit the classrooms via google meets and often found teachers in a world of pain, asking for my help. Many times I would say “give me five minutes” and I would google my life away to come up with an answer for the team.

On Wednesdays the team would catch up, report on what was working and what they wouldn’t do again. Mark Hunt, my equivalent at the Mount Evelyn campus, and I made a huge effort to stay in touch with each other so we were prepared for our colleagues. We had meetings and communicated regularly with the school leadership team so they weren’t being inundated with emails from individual staff.

Executive Principal Paul van Breugel kept us as updated as he could but eventually we realised that some questions just could not be answered. This was and still is the nature of COVID.


We hit a groove with some students..they were turning up and completing work. I had one student attend online classes more than he had attended in the past two years. The quiet students were speaking up, making oral presentations and engaging in discussion. They were showing leadership and coming out of their shells.

However, not everything was fantastic. The outgoing students weren’t turning up. They could not relate to a classroom online. They were not receiving their much needed energy from each other, the banter, the rough and tumble, the very things that make them feel alive – human contact.

Teachers could see it happening, we called them, we begged them, we called parents, heard them cry, consoled them and soldiered on.

The wellbeing team set up a session for parents to talk about the craziness that was going on inside their families.

When COVID  numbers started to drop, we had the chance to return to campus. The numbers of vulnerable students attending Mount Evelyn campus were slowly growing and teachers on the ground were run off their feet. However, many students just gave up and waited for third term before returning to the classroom


We had some time off during the holidays but I was preparing for placement, which was starting day one of third term. I was to spend a month recording the most incredible and difficult experience a teacher could endure. My uni is in Hobart, they had no idea. 

Engagement interviews that were scheduled for the end of first term were happening at the beginning of term three. They focus was on setting goals, explaining the new COVID classrooms, preparing our students and their parents for the new normal. Then there were temperature checks, sanitiser, one (student) per desk, no food prep, no cuppas, no sharing.

We didn’t care, we were all so happy to be back in the classroom, the mood was jubilant, the chatter was infectious. It was hard not to hug them (students), it was all I wanted to do.

Try coming up with creative tasks again without touching, try teaching manicures or hairstyles without touch, sport without sharing a ball, cooking without sharing tools.

But we did it and were happy to do it, the amazing staff at Cire coming together once again to support our precious youth.

Three weeks in, COVID numbers were soaring and we were home again, for the rest of the term. Leadership opened both campuses so if one fell, we would not lose all students and staff to infection. There was no novelty with online teaching this time, we knew what there was to lose. Our students, our results and our sanity!

There were no meetings of goodwill, we taught an hour less each day to save us becoming exhausted. Mark and I were teaching full time, so we could not support the teachers by popping into classrooms. 

And it was numeracy and literacy, day after day, beloved projects just could not be taught online, there was no room for peer teamwork.

To be honest, I started to struggle, I missed everyone, I was teary and dealing with people struggling at home. I was like the outgoing kids, I missed my dose of people, the ones that made me laugh, made me proud and gave me my energy to continue such a rewarding yet taxing job.

I also worried endlessly about the students that had stopped picking up the phone, the parents that were sick of talking and my colleagues that were dragging themselves to the other end of the day. 

I stayed home, wore a mask and had no visitors, desperately trying to do my bit to help reduce COVID numbers.


Returning to school was wonderful, everyone was smiling, nearly everyone had made it through. It was wonderful to see everyone and I felt that my class had a special connection by sharing the challenges of going online together.

It was okay that we had no excursions, no speakers to welcome, no sports day, graduation dinner, work experience or volunteering

Less than half of the VCAL students will graduate this year because the lack of community involvement has not allowed them to finish all of their subjects. COVID has put many plans back at least six months for these students. 

Unfortunately, some students didn’t make it. The lack of human contact, the lack of routine and the decisions driven by boredom have interrupted their journey to a positive life. However, we will keep contacting them, keep showing them that we care and keep doing our jobs.

I am so proud to be a teacher at Cire, now more than ever. 

Thanks for your time and showing an interest in our teaching journey.

For further information about Cire Community School click here

Working from home – a student’s perspective

COVID -19 has disrupted the lives of everyone in the world. While schools were closed and other support services were finding new ways of operating,  it’s important to still stay healthy both physically and mentally.

No chance to say goodbye

As humans we are social beings, being taken away from that social interaction hits most people pretty hard. Not being able to go see your friends or even just people at work & school can be difficult. I found it hard not getting out every day and seeing people at school. It can be pretty hard at some points as we go through this time being at home, there will be times where it’s hard and stressful, but you have to remember that feelings don’t last forever. Also making time to see people in person whether that’s a walk or talking over the fence, making time to still see different people is really important.

Thinking creatively and problem-solving

Working from home can be tough, and there will be times that you will have to think out of the box and come up with an alternative to something you are doing. For example, doing school work from home takes you away from that sense of being taught, and not having someone there to ask questions to in person. But there are some good things too like being able to be more concentrated on your work with fewer distractions, being able to get more work done and have time to really think about your work.

Organising your day

Being at home all day doing school work can feel like there are lots to do, making a solid plan/timetable of your day can really help with managing your work and getting it all done in time. Making time for breaks and snacks. I found that I needed to make time for a walk each day to get out in nature and have some fresh air. It is really important making yourself stay focused and motivated to get yourself through the day and getting the job done.

Trying something new

Trying something new that you wouldn’t usually do can be a great way to learn new skills and learn how to be better at existing skills. I have learnt how to write better emails and how to communicate online better. Also, I’ve enjoyed getting better at participating and showing up for online classes. I’ve also learnt how to manage my time and how to stay motivated.

Working at home can be difficult at times, but overall I’ve found it not too hard. And I quite enjoyed working from home and I’d be happy if I had to do it again.

VETis Tourism student 2020

New Hospitality Training Centre for Cire Community School

Career pathways for students at Cire Community School will receive a major boost with the opening of the school’s new hospitality training centre at the start of 2020.

The purpose-built training facility will enhance the learning experiences for students from both the school and Cire Training, greatly enhancing and expanding their potential career opportunities in the hospitality industry.

It will also hugely benefit a social enterprise run by students from the existing basic and small kitchen in the Cire church building.

Costing more than $500,000, Cire CEO Gus Seremetis said the development would boost the school’s growing reputation as a school of choice and place of positive learning.

‘The hospitality training centre is particularly relevant for our students because of the continuous of tourism in our region and ambitious plans for the future including the Ride Yarra Ranges project.’

‘Our state-of-the-art commercial kitchen will encourage Cire Community School students to participate in hospitality studies and skills which will be highly sought after to cater for the continuously growing number of visitors to the Yarra Valley and surrounds.’

Adding to the project, Cire has received a $20,000 Local Schools Community Fund grant to assist with landscaping and creating areas for relaxation and developing a vegetable garden.  The vegetable garden will help promote healthy eating and reinforce the paddock-to-plate learning.

The Yarra Valley is renowned for hospitality and tourism, however, according to local traders there is a skills gap. Being able to train students to a high standard onsite, means the initiative will be of great benefit to local business, the broader region as well as the students and Cire’s reputation as a visionary organisation.

The Warburton Mountain Bike Destination Project and Yarra Valley Trail Project alone promise to create many new jobs in the near future to cater for the anticipated boom in visitor numbers.

It is envisaged the new facility will be used by other Cire operations and the broader community.


Thank you for supporting our Christmas Twilight Market!

The evening was certainly merry and bright at Cire’s first ever Christmas Twilight Market on Friday 6th December, hosted by the wonderful team at our Chirnside Park Community Hub.

When our staff raised the idea of a Christmas Twilight Market, we had absolutely no idea just how successful it would turn out to be! With over 60 stalls, food trucks and activities and hundreds of attendees, our event received overwhelming support from our local community and business-owners. From delicious donuts and wood-fire pizza to hand-poured candles and soaps, to pony-rides and face-painting we truly had something for everyone. We even had our lovely placement student, Linda, on hand to run a sustainable crafting workshop for children as well as a visit from Santa, travelling in style on the CFA fire-truck!

The sky was threateningly grey, and we spent plenty of time anxiously checking the Bureau of Meteorology’s website for updates, but thankfully the clouds parted and our outdoor stall-holders remained dry. Speaking of stall-holders, we would like to thank each and every business who supported our event and contributed to our giveaway hampers. You were all absolutely fantastic to work with and we hope to welcome you to Cire’s future markets and events!

The donut truck was a particular favourite of our staff- with some of us making several trips!- and several of us started our morning today with a slice of toast slathered in honey from Crafted by Bees. We saw many of our attendees with wood-fire pizza boxes or a snag from the Cire Sausage Sizzle in hand and the ponies would’ve had a good night’s sleep after ferrying our smallest visitors around our outdoor space. With guitar and vocals courtesy of another Cire placement student, Grant, the atmosphere was full of community spirit and joy.

Cire wish to thank our wonderful Hubs Team, particularly Jenelle Strachan and Sara Chehade, for their hard-work and effort bringing this Christmas Market to life. We couldn’t have pulled it together without the efforts of our dedicated placement students, who not only helped advertise and set-up the event, but assisted with running the event itself. Thank you to Coles Chirnside Park, for kindly donating goods for our sausage sizzle and to Chirnside Park CFA, for bringing Santa by to put some very big smiles on the faces of our local families.

Most importantly of all, thank you to each and every one of you who attended the market. Every dollar you spent directly benefits a local business and the proceeds from the Cire Sausage Sizzle will fund future community initiatives and events.



What’s next, you ask? Well, we’ll be taking off our Santa hats and donning pairs of bunny ears for our upcoming Easter Market in 2020! With stall-holder Expressions of Interest already rolling in, our team are busy planning. If you’re interested in signing up as a stall-holder, you’re welcome to give us a call on 1300 835 235 or email us at 

For more information, make sure to follow our Cire Hubs Facebook page. We hope to see you there for more stalls, food and activities with plenty of chocolate thrown in the mix…

Merry Christmas to you and yours from the team at Cire Services.

Music hits high note at school

Music is hitting a high note among budding musos at Cire Community School thanks to a Telstra Kids grant.

Following the purchase of a range of instruments with the grant money, there are many more opportunities available to students. The program offers benefits for students on a number of levels and classes have become a much-anticipated ‘jam session’ for enthusiasts.

Music teacher Jeremy Collings said that the program is particularly valuable at the Community School given its cohort of students who require a positive alternative to mainstream education.

‘It is a highly effective resource to foster self-confidence and social connectedness while developing positive social interaction skills and emotional regulation strategies for students,’ Jeremy said.

‘For example, repetitive rhythm helps calm the central nervous system and focussing closely on the sense of sound and fine motor movement encourages a present, mindful headspace.’

Cire’s music program is highly individualised, allowing opportunities for students to learn musical skills and knowledge based on individual interest. Students negotiate their own realistic goals and develop a program to work toward them. Given time, support and space to work on musical endeavours, students feel safe to make mistakes and use strength-based approaches to problem solve.

Jeremy said that digital music-making is popular among students. It encourages students to express their emotions and develop a unique musical voice. It also offers students the chance to gain hands-on experience with an adaptable and employable set of skills in a society full of user-created media content and the ubiquity of IT in the workforce.

He also added that small group work is often playful and helps build new friendships and teamwork skills as students communicate about how to improve their combined sound.

‘Motivation can be a challenge for our students so it is great to see the resilience they show when trying to master a new song.’

Jeremy said the following highlights the success of the program:

Lucas says that music is ‘the most fun’ and helps with his depression and anxiety. He doesn’t have any instruments at home so it’s great to come to school to play them.

‘I love instruments and I love playing the guitar, especially when I learn new stuff. I’m getting better’. Jayvan


The school is hoping to apply for further funding and or sponsorship, including the 2019 Telstra Kids grants, to purchase music software and also an electric drum kit to develop the program further.

The benefit to students is again highlighted by the following:

Stephen says he has outgrown all he can do with the free software available. He would like to take the next step towards creating professional recordings using software that needs to be purchased.

Shy students such as Olivia say they would be able to play the electric drum kit because they can use headphones and no-one will be able to hear her when she practices.

New work boots by the truckload, almost

It was like Christmas at Cire’s Mount Evelyn campus on 3 August when a donation of a truckload, almost, of spanking new work boots arrived for horticulture students.

The Port Melbourne-based Workwear Group was behind the incredibly generous donation, with students eager to select their own from the 40 pair available. There were no second thoughts for one student who readily retired his dad’s boots.

Karen Swankie, Leading Teacher VCAL/VET and Student Pathways, and Workwear’s John Simon were delighted to see the expressions on the faces of students when they tried on their very own work boots. Some of the students readily went up to John to shake his hand in thanks.

‘It is an incredible donation because it is such a huge boost to the students and their futures,’ said Ms Swankie. ‘Having their own boots that comply with OHS requirements for personal protective equipment (PPE), helps open the doors for students to future employment and structured workplace opportunities, as well as work placements and experience, on-the-job training, and hands-on learning.’

Ms Swankie said the boots would give students greater confidence to enter the VET field and workforce and maximise the opportunities that are available.

The boots will benefit Cire students at all year levels and across varying programs including those in Vocational Education and Training (VET) Horticulture run in conjunction with Swinburne TAFE and the Hands-On Learning program at Yarra Valley ECOSS which focusses on sustainability.

Ms Swankie said the donation was particularly timely given that students will be involved in structured workplace learning later this term in areas such as building and construction, nurseries and mechanical roles.

If you would like to know more about community school click here or call 1300 835 235.

Everyday skills can be hard for some

A surprising statistic for you – around 44% of adult Australians has literacy levels that make everyday tasks very difficult. Sadly, our numeracy levels are worse with over half of Australian adults scoring low on international surveys.

If you have been able to read this so far, fortunately, you are likely not a contributor to this statistic.

Low literacy or numeracy ability is not just being able to read this blog. It is so much more. Social exclusion, financial hardship, struggle to pay for a coffee, not being able to help your kids with their homework or hearing your child tackling with their first words and dreading when they ask, “What’s this word?”, in their high pitched inquisitive little voices.

More worryingly, however, is the health impact this can have on individuals. Not being able to read instructions on a medical prescription and let’s not even start with reading the health benefits of chia seeds, matcha powder and goji berries – what berries?  Low fat, reduced fat, no added sugar, aaargh.

More practical low literacy levels can have a real impact on one’s employment prospects.

Workplaces never used to require as much arduous paperwork or there may be a entry exam as a part of the recruitment process.  Now there are logbooks for trucks drivers, OH&S requirements for factory workers to follow, policies to read and seemingly endless forms to complete.

So what can we do?

Here at Cire we have a number of Everyday Living Skill courses to not only improve your literacy and numeracy, but also improve your life skills, and in turn, your confidence and social interaction, all in a supportive and fun environment.

From Everyday English and Maths to Independent Living and cooking in Kitchen Kaos.  There is such a diverse range of courses to help anyone who wants to learn.

One day you can be going to the laundry mat or cooking up spaghetti bolognaise and the next increasing your reading and writing or setting out a simple budget in maths.

“My reading, writing and maths have really improved since starting at Cire. This makes me feel happy and more confident”. I also like coming to class to socialise with others – Robyn, Student, Everyday Learning Skills

Here are just some of the great courses on offer,

  • Independent Living
  • Kitchen Kaos and healthy living
  • Tech Hub
  • Everyday English
  • Intermediate English
  • Everyday Maths
  • Smart Money

If you or someone you know wants to learn more about our courses, please contact Cire on 1300 835 235 for further information. We also offer a free trial where you can attend a session to see whether the course suits your needs. ­­

Students start their day baking fresh bread

Cire Community School recently purchased two new bread makers for use by two Year 10 Foundation VCAL classes at the Yarra Junction campus. Concerns over some students coming to school without healthy food, or without food at all, has been an ongoing problem that teachers have resolved to deal with. The purchase of the bread machines has met several objectives.

Our students love to cook but unless they’re engaged in the cooking program on a Thursday, access to the kitchen is limited. The bread machines are the perfect solution. They can be set up in the classroom, all preparation is done in class and numerous educational outcomes are being met through the students making their own bread daily. Numeracy and Literacy outcomes are being met through measuring and making the bread, through researching and trying new recipes and in instructing classmates in bread making procedures. The students are excited by the endless possibilities of creating their own bread recipes and imaginations are running wild! We are currently using a white and whole wheat flour recipe and it is interesting to note that there have been no complaints or refusal of bread. When we had store-bought bread in the past, students refused to eat it unless it is white!

Routine is very important for our students and serving up warm bread, spread with good quality butter at morning tea time every day gives the students something to consistently look forward to. Bellies that are full of nutritious food are more likely to be conducive to students that are more settled in the classroom, more focused on their work and more engaged in school generally. An added bonus is the sense of community in the classrooms as everyone sits down together to share something that they have made themselves. Some students have been bringing condiments from home and sharing them with others and there is a real feeling of family as we break bread together.

The highlights were the anticipation of the students as they waited for the first loaves of bread to bake, and the looks on their faces when the loaves came steaming out of the oven .

What our students had to say:

“The bread tastes like cupcakes.” Jasmine
“The best thing about today was making and eating the bread.” Ben

Although the bread making is a new initiative, so far it is a wonderful success! The students get to experience warm, wholesome, fresh food that they have made themselves and everyone gets to work in an environment that smells of freshly baked bread. This can’t help but to contribute to the wellbeing of all students and teachers alike!

We would like to thank local business Village Greens Health Food for their support of the project and for supplying bio-dynamic flour to the school at a wholesale price.

If you would like to know more about our youth education programs and community school call 1300 835 235 or click here.

Nurturing Our Community

The staff and students at Cire Community School Yarra Junction care about the environment, so they have decided to do something about it by becoming a ResourceSmart school.

So what does this actually mean?

Basically, it’s a program designed to improve the way we use our resources at Cire Community School and, through this program, we learn the benefits of being more sustainable. From students through to the teachers and even the wider community, changing the way we use our energy is necessary for our future.

Completion of the core module will initiate our journey as we discover our energy, water and waste usage. We will track our biodiversity, providing students with hands on approaches by learning different ways to come up with sustainable solutions.

Imagine the students creating a community garden space right here in our school grounds. They would be involved right from the start, from planning and design, constructing plant boxes, maintaining gardens and future development of the space. What an accomplishment it would be harvesting for the first time and knowing that all the produce was created in a sustainable environment. There is so much to gain from teaching these skills to our future generations.

So you can see it’s not just a singular idea. It is a comprehensive approach to improving the way our school runs and is a project that we can all get involved with.

As the program expands we hope that the wider community will also see the way our school is advancing towards a nurturing environmental future, also increasing the scope of future programs we can offer to those who really need it, our students.

As we travel along the path to gaining a 5 star energy efficient ResourceSmart school rating, Cire will naturally be more and more environmentally sustainable. We hope the changes create a positive impact on the way that we see sustainability and show the students that a little hard work and dedication can make a massive impact on tomorrow’s future.

We will be posting our progress of our journey to sustainability, so keep your eye out for future posts about what we have achieved and what is on the horizon.

If you would like get involved in creating this wonderful new environment or would like to find out more about our project, you can contact Bernadette Murray, Education Support Officer on 0449 295 344 or contact Cire Community School on 1300 835 235.

For further inforation on Cire Community School click here.


Facing fears with new highs

Cire Community School – High Ropes Excursion

This semester various year 9 and VCAL students from Cire Community School have been participating in an outdoor education project. This project supports the Victorian Health and Physical Education curriculum and the Learning Outcomes for their Personal Development Skills strand.

Over the year our students have been engaging in various activities designed to challenge, empower, develop leadership and teamwork skills and also connect to nature.

Students had the opportunity to participate in a high ropes experience facilitated by John (Camp Manager – St John’s Ambulance Camp in Wesburn).

The high ropes course is conducted in a safe and controlled environment which is designed to challenge the students physically and mentally, take them out of their comfort zone and give them the opportunity to experience self- empowerment through personal risk taking. The course is also designed to allow students to practice in a team environment and to instil a sense of responsibility towards their peers.

Cire Community School high-ropes excursionOn the day of the excursion, the students were both equally excited and nervous. Not knowing for sure what to expect, the student expressed worries that their experience would be limited by factors such as, a fear of heights and some self-doubt. But to their credit, every student had the courage to rise above their fears, and have a go. All the students achieved their personal best and pushed themselves to finish the course, despite the challenges. For some of the students, this meant combatting their fear of heights by climbing to the height of the rope. For others, this meant stepping onto that rope and trusting in their classmates to keep them safe whilst they were belayed from the ground. For the students on the ground, it was an opportunity to demonstrated teamwork and leadership skills. It was wonderful to see the students working together and believing in themselves knowing that they completed these challenges.

“Every student stepped out of their comfort zone and was proud of their achievements at the end of the day. To see the smiles of pride on their faces and the sense of success, knowing they worked in a team, was a special moment to witness.” Willa Vale – Cire Community School Teacher

Cire Community School high-ropes excursionAt the end of the day, on the bus ride home, there was a feeling of exhilaration. The students although exhausted had a fantastic time. One of the highlights for me was seeing the students facing their fears and uncertainties head on. The students showed great teamwork and pride in what they accomplished. It is always amazing knowing, that when you feel that a task will be impossible, it only takes that first step, to be pushed beyond what you believe is the edge of your capabilities. This was a special event for not only the students but for us to be proud of.

We would like to thank John, from the St John’s Ambulance, for his ongoing humour, enthusiasm throughout the whole experience and for supporting all of our wonderful and courageous students.

These are just some of the empowering activities Cire Community School students partisipate in. If you would like to know more about our educational services click here or call 1300 835 235.