The great 2020 school transport challenge - Education Matters Magazine
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The great 2020 school transport challenge

Dominic Luddy, GHD Team Leader for Engagement, Communication and Communities, explains how in January 2020 his team were planning its STEAM design challenges, planting excursions and site visits for local school groups when COVID-19 struck.

The massive upheaval of 2020 and the pandemic could simply have led us to down tools. Instead (perhaps it comes from mixing with engineers) we decided to go to work on solutions to keep in touch with students across the state.

We are major transport projects in Victoria. North East Link, Level Crossing Removals, Metro Tunnel, West Gate Tunnel, Regional Rail Revival and a number of major road projects. Suburban Rail Loop and Melbourne Airport Rail are joining the family too. It’s an unprecedented investment in transport infrastructure for Victoria.

But why the school focus and determination to keep in touch during the pandemic? These projects, many stretching ahead for years to come, are for them.

Young Victorians deserve to understand what is happening and why, and to be able to get involved in shaping their future transport systems. And who knows, there could be a career there for them.

There is a nationwide shortage of engineers, and we make it our job to promote the STEAM subjects that support this professional pathway. And of course, when these projects are happening just down the road, it’s vital to connect with students and their families.

So how did we manage it last year? Often we had the carpet pulled from under us and just had to be agile to make a planned program work virtually – in the case of Regional Rail Revival, twice over!

Regional Rail Revival partnered with Bendigo Tech School and other local partners to offer Design Challenge 2050 – a team-based competition for Years 5 to 8 in the Bendigo region. The challenge asked students for their ideas on the future of public transport, and to consider the question, “what does the smart and connected city of 2050 look like?”

Originally designed as a face-to-face program, Design Challenge 2050 was eventually delivered almost entirely online, with students visiting the local tech school to access equipment to develop their prototypes and submissions.

More than 100 students from seven schools participated in the challenge. The support of our partners proved invaluable and the subsequent online model now provides greater flexibility and scope for expansion – with strong support for roll-out to other regional rail lines in 2021.

The same challenge led the Regional Rail Revival project in Gippsland to rethink their planned engagement with primary schools as part of the Gippsland line upgrade.

Almost 200 students from two local primary schools joined a series of online events exploring the world of construction and improvements to Apex Park in Stratford as part of works for the new Avon River rail bridge.

These included a competition, “my first day in the park”, and worksheets that encouraged safe behaviour around the new bridge and faster moving trains.

Usually a magnet for school groups, the Metro Tunnel Project’s visitor centre in Melbourne’s CBD remained closed for most of 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic but schools could book online learning sessions which included a live Kahoot Quiz to test retention and add an element of competitive fun.

This new offering was complemented by a big update to the Metro Tunnel Education Program website, adding a suite of new themed activities for kids to learn about about Victoria’s biggest ever public transport project.

Projects trialled many different platforms to engage remotely – including Zoom and Webex but perhaps the most successful was Facebook Live, as demonstrated by the Metro Tunnel team.

Sessional teacher Sian Fitzpatrick and Murphy Whitmore, one of the younger members of the digital team, ran a 20-minute session focussed on the big machines that build our tunnels. Up to 200 people joined the session live – comments and questions were hard to keep up with! – and the video of the event has been viewed more than 4,000 times.

Use of online platforms has made a huge difference in putting role models in front of students, and will doubtless continue to do so. Rail Academy (part of the Level Crossing Removal Project) partnered with Jacobs Engineering Group to deliver a webinar to female students from Years 7 to 10, where participants heard from some of Victoria’s foremost female industry leaders and completed a real time STEM design challenge.

Their challenge was not a small one – building a new station and managing a budget while contributing to sustainable development goals. All from the comfort of their own home.

But home schooling doesn’t always mean being stuck indoors. Like most Victorian students, Belle Vue Primary School kids spent Term 3 learning at home – but that didn’t stop their sustainability group from getting their hands dirty! A team from the North East Link Project sent 19 students a native tree with a pack of supplies and ran an online lesson on how to care for their tree at home.

When the students returned to school late last year, the project helped them plant their trees alongside more than 200 others planted earlier in the year. The trees are growing a denser, healthier understory around the school’s playing fields.

So, as we look forward to a hopefully happier, healthier and more liberated 2021, what can schools and students in Victoria expect from these massive transport developments?

As a family of projects within Victoria’s ‘Big Build’, we are taking it to the next level – developing brand new resources and working collaboratively to bring work-related learning and support for STEAM subjects to more students than ever from pre-school right through to secondary.

We’re building partnerships with Tech Schools, careers organisations and leading players in the promotion of diversity to share the opportunities that our projects can bring with the broadest possible audience.