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Grants to help the Mornington Peninsula respond to COVID-19

A small grant to assist school children with limited access to online facilities learn at home during the COVID-19 crisis, was one of the first priorities for the Ross Trust as part of its response to the pandemic.

At Wallaroo Primary School on the Mornington Peninsula, many of the students and families struggle with access to the internet or IT devices, making it very challenging to begin Term 2 as advised by the State government – studying from home unless there is no other alternative.

The government has committed to providing the technology to facilitate home learning, this has been welcomed by the school community. However, some communities will require additional support to navigate these changes and bridge the digital divide.

Having already established relationships with Wallaroo’s Principal Jenny Brennan and Executive Officer of the Mornington Peninsula Foundation, Stephanie Exton, the Trust made contact to better understand the need and delivered an immediate grant of $15,000 to assist with the transition to online learning from home. “This will go a long way to support our students,” Jenny said.

Jenny worked with her team and spoke with families, leading to an assessment that 58 students had no access to a device to support their learning and eight families had no internet access at all. The teaching team swung into action preparing initial two-week learning packs for each student, with traditional materials, as well as the basics of a pencil case, colouring pencils, grey lead, workbook, glue, scissors, coloured paper and an eraser.

In the meantime, the teachers used the two weeks of preparation time to organise how to get students online and learning from home.

The Trust’s funding went towards the purchase of:
• devices to access online learning
• learning apps
• dongles to provide internet access / prepaid internet
• USB Wi-Fi adapters and cabling to support students’ access
• Cases or covers for their new devices.

When needed, the funding was also used to pay for technical support to assist in a smooth transition to the new learning environment.

The initial COVID-19 response from the Trust has focused on the Mornington Peninsula in line with the Trustees’ placed-based strategy, approved late in 2019.

With an aspiration to break the entrenched cycle of disadvantage in some pockets of the Mornington Peninsula, the Ross Trust has made a commitment to a 10-year plan of work prioritising a place-based approach with a focus on Hastings, Rosebud and the surrounds.

Through collaboration and direct support, the Trust will work with partners to focus on addressing barriers to participation in education and build local capacity for social change. In line with this new commitment, the Trustees have responded to the COVID-19 impacts, with immediate grants to three of the Mornington Peninsula’s emergency relief and material aid centres of $25,000 each paid to:

1. Southern Peninsula Community Support and Information Centre
2. Mornington Community Information and Support Centre
3. Western Port Community Centre.

Demonstrating perhaps just how difficult things are in small local communities, already struggling with a high proportion of families living below the poverty line, the response to the grants was summed up with the comments of Southern Peninsula Community Support and Information Centre, CEO, Jeremy Maxwell, who said “This is such a different time with so many moving and changing challenges, just to have a little breathing space and the confidence to pay for some the things we need to do is great. Please pass on our thanks to everyone - we are very grateful.”

Further grants in response to the COVID-19 and bushfire impacts on Victorian communities are expected following coming Trustee meetings.