By Kirra Grimes

THE community has rallied around Poowong Consolidated School after the recent theft of 29 laptops.
In the days following the December 17 burglary, hundreds of community members expressed their desire to help, and last week, a Maffra based company donated 20 laptops to the school.
A further three laptops were donated by the South Gippsland Bass Coast Local Learning and Employment Network (LLEN), and numerous individuals have made monetary donations to the school.
Poowong Consolidated School principal Cate McKenzie said the community’s support of the small school following the burglary has been “phenomenal”.
“The amount of support has been incredible,” she said.
“It’s a hard thing to ask for financial support in a community that’s been hit really hard by the dairy crisis.
“Everyone’s affected when a crisis happens – there’s not as much money going through the town and this is not what we needed.
“Local businesses have really supported us with getting our new playground installed and it’s very hard to ask them for more when we feel we’ve already drained their resources.”
Ms McKenzie said the school was very lucky the Maffra company Southern Rural Water, and South Gippsland Bass Coast LLEN stepped in to donate laptops.
“Ten of the laptops that were stolen were brand new, but we were leasing them and we didn’t know the company we were leasing them from hadn’t taken out insurance.
“The others were a few years old so we never would’ve gotten back [from insurance] what we would’ve needed to replace them,” Ms McKenzie said.
Executive officer of SGBC LLEN Wendy Major said the organisation had three three-year-old laptops they were planning on replacing anyway, and that giving them to Poowong Consolidated School was a great opportunity for SGBC LLEN to support local young people in a very practical way.
“The laptops still have life in them and rather than having them just sitting in the cupboard, we’re really pleased to be able to help out someone on our patch in South Gippsland,” Wendy said.
Laptops are used by students in Prep through to Grade 4, all throughout the curriculum, including for Mathletics, a reading program called Wushka, project work, electives and research.
Ms McKenzie said teachers had been hoping the students would be able to use the laptops to do their NAPLAN tests online next year.
Though Ms McKenzie said the students would’ve continued to receive great education at the school, even without the laptops, it’s important for children to be computer literate and “tech aware” from a young age. “We’re trying to teach them to scrutinise information they read on the internet, things like that, as well as providing games that make literacy and numeracy fun and engaging.”
She says she’s glad no one was hurt during the burglary but that the whole community had been very distressed by the incident.
“The kids were really upset when they found out about it. And I had a lot of nervous parents to reassure. At the end of the day, it’s just laptops – the kids will still learn regardless – but it’s just upsetting that it’s happened.
“We’d fundraised over a period of time to provide the most up to date technology, and it was all gone in one fell swoop.”
She said the school council will look into improving security next year, such as installing foghorn-like sirens to alert the community when there’s a break-in.
“We’ll see what we can afford. We have a limited amount of funds because we only have 140 students and we have to manage our money to make sure we do what’s best for the kids.”
The burglary happened between the hours of 4am and 5am on Sunday, December 17. Thieves broke into several classrooms, targeting trolleys containing laptops, leaving just five laptops behind. Alarms were activated but by the time police arrived from Wonthaggi, the thieves had fled.
Detective Senior Constable Liza Burrows is leading Bass Coast CIU’s investigation into the burglary.
Detective Burrows said there was no evidence at the scene to indicate how many people were involved but that it was very likely to have been multiple people, due to the amount of items taken.
Detective Burrows said the thieves had definitely used a car to flee with the stolen goods and that CCTV footage from a business on Poowong’s Main Street has captured a dark coloured Commodore travelling west (towards Nyora) between the time the alarm was activated and the time police arrived at the school.
Detective Burrows said there’s a strong likelihood this car is associated with the burglary, and has released still images to the public in hopes someone might know who owns the vehicle.
Police have the serial numbers of all the stolen laptops and will be looking at pawn shops and anywhere else the laptops might be sold, including online.
Detective Burrows urges anyone with information to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.