Finding connection in a fractured time

The Smith family pictured at their home on the NSW coast. From left: Regan, Martin, Vicky, and Ethan

Like so many of us, the Smith family have spent the past 18 months becoming experts at managing uncertainty.

With two sons currently boarding at Melbourne Grammar, COVID-19 has presented an array of challenges for the Smiths, whose family home is located on the NSW coast. Alongside the many difficulties they’ve faced, the family has also found support through the School community, and opportunities to help others in return.

“As boarders, I think we have a better lockdown than most students,” says Ethan Smith, now in Year 11.

“The teachers have given up their time to make sure we have access to the gym after hours. We can also go to the swimming pool and hang out in common areas after classes are finished for the day. I’ll be playing touch footy this afternoon—it’s the little things like that which help.”

Ethan Smith

Ethan’s brother Regan, currently in Year 9, says he is enjoying having more flexibility in his daily timetable. “I added it up, and we actually have a few more recreational hours than we would in a normal school day,” Regan says. “I’ve picked up going to the gym in my spare time.”

A typical day for this year’s Melbourne Grammar boarders includes breakfast, lunch and dinner together in the Luxton Dining Hall, with the day’s lessons taken as a group at the Geoff Handbury Science and Technology Hub. Many of the School’s facilities have remained open to these students, including the fully staffed 24/7 Health Centre, located in the boarding precinct, which supports the physical and mental health of boarders.

For Regan and Ethan’s parents, ongoing uncertainty has meant a decision made one day may have to be reversed the next. Ethan and Regan have been able to stay at School during this year’s shorter lockdowns, but as the mid-year lockdown continues, whether to bring the boys home has remained an open question.

“Our emotions go up and down every day,” says Martin Smith. “One night we’ll decide we should bring the boys home, then it looks like the situation has changed again.”

“We do have support from other families who have offered to bring the boys to Albury for us to meet them when we haven’t been able to cross the border,” says Vicky Smith.

“The community has been a great support, and the communications from the School have been good too, especially when a lockdown is about to happen.”   

Vicky Smith

The ever-changing nature of 2021 has provided opportunities as well as challenges. Student-to-student pastoral care has always been a feature of our boarding community, and for Ethan, this kind of service has never been more important.

“It’s stressful at the moment for the Year 12s, so we Year 11s have really tried to make their role a bit easier by taking on some of those leadership aspects,” Ethan says. “We try to make sure we have a chat with the younger boys, just to see how they’re going. Even that little check-in seems to really make their day.”