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Four kids to a class: it’s a ratio many parents dream of, but at Abergowrie State School in north Queensland it’s the norm … given there’s only one class.
“It’s magical, that sense of community — we are like a second family,” school principal Laura-Beth Martin said.
Abergowrie State School, 40 kilometres north-west of Ingham, is one of 100 Queensland schools with fewer than 20 pupils.
Nearby Trebonne State School has 12 students. Mt Fox State School — 82km away — has just two.
The schools are part of a cluster of eight small schools that work together on curriculum, visit each others’ campuses, and compete at inter-school sports events.
Michele Coventry, from Long Pocket, chose Abergowrie for her daughters Ashleigh, Year 2, and Zoe, Year 1, as the school’s educational approach resonated.
She’s not worried they’re missing out on resources they’d have at larger Ingham schools half an hour away.
“I understand that kids do benefit from exposure to that social environment, but I think the things that you can gain from such a small class definitely outweigh it,” she said.
The students of Homestead State School, 200km south-west of Townsville, are being ushered in from morning break a bit early as a student’s quad bike birthday present is about to drive past.
Formerly a teacher at a big Brisbane school, Ms Hollis was looking for a change and took up the role of teaching principal at Homestead two years ago.
Her student cohort is five and her daily commute to work is now 24 steps.
With herself, a part-time teacher and teacher’s aide on staff, Ms Hollis said all staff and students were visible and accountable.
“No child can fall through the cracks here.
“The kids are also taking responsibility for their own learning journey, which is great,” she said.
In a small community, the school gets used for everything.
Abergowrie State School is a polling place, disaster recovery centre and community library, and hosts yoga classes and a preschool playgroup.
At Queensland state schools, enrolments are the main driver of a school’s government resourcing.
Ms Martin said she used grants to help the school get additional resources.
“As a small school we get grant funds to go learn to swim; we get REAP cluster funds,” she said.
A grant and community contributions enabled the school to build a $40,000 nature playground this year, which was landscaped by students from the nearby high school.
Being surrounded by national park, it is not unusual for wild things to wander into Abergowrie State School’s grounds.
“We had a 1.5m python in the office last week,” she said.
At Homestead State School, the internet is Ms Hollis’ main challenge as principal.
She said their connection was patchy and usually lasted about 30 minutes.
“We cross our fingers every time we go to log on,” she said.
Ms Martin said her main challenge was recruiting children for prep.
“When the school gets to such a small size [parents] see that size and they think it is not big enough,” Ms Martin said.
“They think that they are missing out on socialising, which is not true.”