Hazelwood Health Study completes an investigation of the impacts of the Hazelwood mine fire on a specialist school which relocated during the smoke event

The Hazelwood Health Study has completed an investigation of the impacts of the 2014 Hazelwood mine fire on wellbeing, educational outcomes, and teaching practices for students and staff at a specialist school which relocated during the smoke event.

“We would like to thank all teachers and administrative staff who gave their time to describe their experiences of the smoke event,” Monash University researcher Dr Emily Berger said.

Dr Berger said that analysis of the interviews with students suggested that the smoke event had adversely impacted on student wellbeing, including increased feelings of anxiety and frustration, difficulty adjusting to the relocation environment, a reduced sense of safety, as well as increased levels of stress at home.

“Having to cope with these challenges likely contributed to the drop in both attendance and schoolwork completion reported during this time.”

School staff also experienced anxiety and frustration around the event, particularly in relation to having concerns for themselves and their families at the same time as working hard to look after their students.

“Relocation of the school imposed extra duties upon staff, reduced their access to teaching resources, and increased the time spent dealing with student concerns. The smoke event affected teachers at the school on both a professional, and personal, level.”

On a positive note, Dr Berger said that relocating the school during the event had reduced exposure to smoke for students and teachers, and that the school had been proactive in its response by taking the opportunity to engage students in a variety of outdoor activities away from the smoke.

“The school’s use of a trauma-informed approach to teaching provided considerable insights into how best to support students during future emergency events, particularly those requiring an extended relocation period.”

For more information about the Hazelwood Health Study, visit www.hazelwoodhealthstudy.org.au

This report is being published in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Trauma. A copy of the pre-print version of this article is available at www.hazelwoodhealthstudy.org.au/publications

This research was funded by the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services.