Polly is a class act on a small stage

By Kimberley Price

Small country schools bring their own challenges — such as teachers mastering prep to year six curriculums all at the same time. Polly's school might just have a principal and her, teaching a total of eight students across the seven years, but is kicking some big goals,

Polly Healey is passionate about learning.

As a young student, she struggled with her grades because she had a different learning technique to her peers.

However, as a teacher she is determined not to leave any of her small group of students behind.

Polly is the only full-time teacher, working alongside teaching principal Jim Rinaldi, at Leitchville Primary School — where grades prep to Year 6 have a total of eight names on the roll.

“It was certainly a massive shock to the system,” Polly laughed.

“The first week I felt like Bambi on Ice.”

But the challenges of being in charge — of not just a class, but a school — have seen Polly flourish and enabled the 24-year-old to fuel her passion of focusing on a child's specific learning needs.

“When I was in Year eight I was struggling to get my grades up so my parents thought it would be best to get some external help,” Polly said.

“I started getting tutoring from Cathy Kervin, who really inspired me.

“She supported me and how I learnt, and taught me different ways to learn and new techniques.

“I got into teaching because I didn't want other kids to feel the way I did in school.”

After graduating from Moama Anglican Grammar School in 2012, Polly studied a Bachelor of Early Childhood Education at La Trobe University in Bendigo.

Polly spent a year at Echuca East Primary School before hearing about and being encouraged to apply for the opportunity at Leitchville.

“I was really nervous to begin teaching here," she said.

“They called and said I had the job and I was like: 'Really? Are you sure?'

“But the principal said he thought I could really do this.”

Having a small group of students and a wide range of content to cover has meant Polly has had to think outside of the box.

She's been able to incorporate different learning activities and styles to ensure all children keep on track and enjoy learning.

“We have Tippa the dog.

“I'd done a lot of research about bringing dogs into classrooms and discovered they have a calming effect.

“Tippa gives the children unconditional love which is so important for a child as you never know what goes on outside the classroom.

“I often find Tippa with one of the kids cuddled up on the floor.

“He allows the children to remain calm, regain their focus and teaches them about patience and forms friendships between them.

“And for students lacking confidence in reading, they can read to Tippa and their mistakes aren't judged.

“We also have a rabbit and a guinea pig.”

For Polly, the challenge of catering to a dozen differing needs is one which she and Jim Rinaldi take on with great determination and pride. Through incorporating circle work, group work and regular excursions out in the incredibly supportive Leitchville community, the students are always active, busy and eager to learn.

With five students graduating last year, the school's numbers decreased quite dramatically. But in celebrating its 140th year last year, Leitchville Primary School still has many years to come.

“It's an amazing school environment,” Polly smiled.

“Having eight students with two teachers most of the time means we can keep up to date with the children's needs.

“Every student has different needs and different learning plans.

“We can work one on one to keep changing and achieving goals.

“I cover everything from science to coding to maths to English and PE.

“I wear many teaching hats.

“And I love it.

“It's really brought out my confidence.

“I'm learning just as much as the students are.”