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The COVID-19 pandemic has had significant impact on Iris Foundation’s work to promote hope, resilience and connections in the Central Coast community. Mandatory closures brought an immediate halt to our Cool Connections program running in local primary schools during Term 1. At the same time, our community partners reported increased anxiety, disengagement and aggression among children.

Thanks to the generosity of the Rotary Club of Northlakes-Toukley, Iris Foundation was able to quickly develop and deliver an online version of our existing evidence-based program. A small group of older primary school children connected for six weekly sessions via Zoom, using online educational tools alongside the art-based projects undertaken in the face-to-face program.

Each participant received their own ‘Cool Kit’ of creative materials via contact-less delivery. Although some of the participants were initially reluctant to appear onscreen, they soon relaxed into connecting with the two facilitators and the other children. Once schools re-opened, they were able to continue the sessions with the co-operation of parents and school staff.

Participants engaged well with the new program, with parents reporting positive behaviour changes at home. One said their child was “more open to new people and less stressed and anxious about new environments.” Another said their child was “more mature, with better coping strategies”, which is a key element of building resilience.

After the final online session, the children were able to bond in person during a session at The Holistic Equine, Somersby. This innovative local organisation uses interaction with horses to help children (and adults) manage their life challenges. Though none of the participants had experience with horses, Sharon and her team soon had them relaxed and having fun.

Iris Foundation would like to thank Northlakes-Toukley Rotary, The Holistic Equine, and the participants and their families for making Cool Connections Online possible. Though we have now returned to in-school program delivery, the pilot has created a viable alternative – and happy memories for all involved.

For more information about Cool Connections programs, click here.

To find out, more about The Holistic Equine, click here.

Cool Connections Online incorporated elements of Secret Agent Society and The Brave Program, used with permission.

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