Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Educating Global Citizens (2015 Term 4 Week 7)

Each year, during my final morning tea with the student leadership team, I ask them about the highlights of their time at Inaburra; the Global Education program receives resounding affirmation time after time. This program, which takes place at the end of Year 10, is a key element in our quest to shape life-long learners who are engaged and aware global citizens, by giving them an experience of service-learning and horizon-broadening.

The 2015 Global Education program is underway at the moment. This year we are running five programs:

Greater Sydney
Mon 16/11-Wed 25/11
9 students will get involved with a number of charity and welfare organisations within the Sydney region including Samaritan’s Purse, the Westmead Children’s Hospital, Rough Edges, Caroline Chisholm School and Conservation Volunteers Australia. In week 8 they will stay at the Sydney Harbour YHA and travel from there to their destinations.

Remote Australia
Mon 16/11-Wed 25/11
31 students will travel to Broken Hill (on a very long train ride!) where they will partner with the Bush Church Aid Society, working with the local indigenous communities in a number of practical ways. They will enjoy visits to a number of significant local landmarks and return home via Dubbo.

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South East Asia
Sat 14/11-Thurs 26/11
38 students will travel through Cambodia and Vietnam, visiting a range of historical and cultural sites. The program also incorporates visits to schools for underprivileged children and Asia Hope Orphanage. There is a very active Twitter account associated with this trip with lots of photos and videos; you do not need to be on Twitter to access this page.

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Sun 15/11-Tues 24/11
12 students will help conserve Australia’s environment and heritage, partnering with Conservation Volunteers in the Tasman Peninsula. They will be based in Port Arthur, working on the Salt River Coal Mine site, as well as visiting Coles Bay on the Freycinet Peninsula, and Maria Island.

Yasawa Islands
Sat 14/11-Mon 23/11
17 students travel to the remote Yasawa Islands in the north-west of Fiji where they will partner with the Australia Pacific Youth Foundation to help local communities. They will be involved in building projects, teaching in local schools as well as marine conservation projects sponsored by the Fijian government.

These experiences, of such tremendous value to the students, are enabled through extraordinary efforts of staff. It is no small responsibility to look after a large group of adolescents in these contexts. In order to take part in these camps, the seventeen teachers involved have had to complete their normal school-based responsibilities in a compressed amount of time, including marking, report-writing and lesson-preparation. In addition, the families of the staff members are scrambling to cover their absence. My particular thanks are due to Mr Watson, whose efforts to coordinate and organise the Global Education program have been superlative.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

The imminent building project (2015 Term 4 Week 6)

Within the month we expect to commence the school's next major building project. This project has been flagged in our 2013-2015 Strategic Plan; we have used the last three years to explore possibilities, assess needs and opportunities and consider the range of issues associated with this project. Now, we are about to commence!

Throughout 2015 I have hosted 26 events for parents - whether breakfasts, lunches or suppers - to tell the story of the school, to explain the nature of the changing educational landscape, and to outline the plans for this building. (I suspect that this hospitality, provided by our canteen, has had an effect on my waistline!) Through these events I have spoken with 222 individuals from 147 of our school families; we have received pledges and donations of around $120K towards the cost of the building through the School's Building Fund. My family, and the families of the Board of Directors, have all made contributions to this project, believing it to be the next step in the life of the school. I am deeply appreciative of the support that has been shown towards this project, whether through verbal affirmation or financial commitment.

The building plans were presented at the Presentation Events at the end of last year and there has been a display of the plans in the Performing Arts Centre throughout 2015.

By way of a brief primer to parents who may not be aware of our plans, we will be constructing a building on the site of the main staff carpark, stretching from the current Year 2 classrooms down to the Senior School. In order to increase the total amount of carparking on site, we are engaging in signficant excavation to create two levels of carparking in the base of the building, one of which is accessed off Bowra Close and one of which is accessed through the main school gate. On top of these carparking levels, the ground floor will contain a new Independent Learning Centre, administrative and meeting spaces and a base for the Learning Enrichment Team. The top level, which is the second storey when viewed from inside the school, will be given over to learning spaces for students in Years 5 and 6.

Associated with the building are a number of other elements, including new learning spaces on top of the English rooms in the Senior School, a roof over the Science courtyard, covered walkways around the school and substantial landscaping in the Junior School playground. The removal of our 'temporary' demountable classrooms will open up significantly more playground space for the Junior School. We will also be removing the 'maze', terracing and levelling the existing playground and providing better access around the site.

At this point we expect to start construction at the beginning of the summer holidays and we expect the building to be in use by the start of 2017. The landscaping in the Junior School should be done by the middle of 2017.

There will be significant inconvenience to the life of the school associated with the construction process. As the site is in the middle of the school, there will be noise, dirt, dust and disruption to movement at various times and stages of the construction. We will obviously manage these challenges to the best of our ability and we are confident that the community is sufficiently resilient to be able to cope with the short-term pain for the sake of the school's long-term benefit.

If you would like to find out more about the project, you are welcome to come to one of the functions that I am hosting; the links are on the e-news letter or you can contact Mr Dom Valastro at the school. You are also warmly invited to make a (tax-deductible) financial contribution to the project at the link provided above.

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Camping in Belanglo State Forest (2015 Term 4 Week 5)

Many members of the School community will be aware that our Year 9 students had a camp last week. Camps are usually the object of substantial anticipation for students, although this year most of the speculation hinged on the fact that the camp would take place in the Belanglo State Forest. Recent headlines have raised the students' awareness of the forest and its history and their apprehensions about camp may have been amplified by their research into Belanglo. Obviously, we didn't choose our camp location for reasons associated with the newspaper headlines. Rather, over the last few years we have reviewed the camping and outdoor education programs offered by the school and we saw the need for a challenging Year 9 expedition-style camp.

The camps in Years 5, 7, and 8 are site-based camps. Our provider for these camps is Anglican Youthworks; we have had a longstanding and significant partnership with them.The Year 5 camp, which lasts three days, takes place at the Youthworks Port Hacking campsite called RathaneThis camp includes a wide range of outdoor activities, including archery, canoeing, sailing and water activities, but the students are accommodated in cabins and the facilities are extensive and comfortable. 

A similar camp happens right at the beginning of Year 7. This camp takes place at Deer Park, which is also at the Anglican Youthworks Port Hacking site; this camp has many of the same activities, albeit at an increased level of challenge. Much of the benefit in this camp is mixing up the continuing and new students, helping them get to know their peers and teachers, and ensuring that they start their school experience with some positive memories. In Year 8, Anglican Youthworks continues to be the provider, but we make use of the Waterslea campsite on the Shoalhaven River near Nowra. This camp also increases the level of challenge, with the students sleeping in tents on a camp-out for one night.

For all the success of these site-based camps, it is our judgment that this format does not provide adequate challenge for the Year 9 students. At its best, outdoor education stretches students by providing them with physical challenges, exposing them to situations that go beyond their normal experience, expecting them to learn about themselves and others, and requiring them to persevere in the face of multi-faceted adversity. Therefore, in 2013 we began the search for a provider who would be able to run expedition-based camps for our Year 9 students. We settled on the Outdoor Education Group (OEG), as a leading provider in this sector.

In 2015, we ran our first expedition-style camps with OEG. Based at their property Biloela bordering the Belanglo State Forest, the students were provided with the choice to take on either a three-day camp or a five-day camp. The longer camp entailed a higher level of challenge; about half the students chose this option. Despite the experience of camping in -7 degrees centigrade, the feedback from students was largely positive, with the majority of students from both camps indicating that they would have preferred a longer camp.

Therefore, in 2016 we offered either a four-day camp or a six-day camp, at a slightly less chilly time of year. Again, about half our students chose to take on the more challenging option, which also dovetails with the requirements of the Duke of Edinburgh program. While we are yet to conduct our post-camp survey, it has been fascinating to hear the students begin to reflect on their experience. The full gamut of responses is evident, from those who loved it and would prefer to be in the bush than at school, through to those who saw very little (if anything) positive in the experience. Some students appear to have developed a new appreciation for a full pantry and hot water on tap. Others formed or built connections with peers (and teachers) with whom they do not normally interact.

With this adventure behind them, the focus has already begun to swing towards the Year 10 Global Education program. In a couple of weeks time our Year 10 students will travel to the Yasawa Islands, Cambodia/Vietnam, Broken Hill, Tasmania, or wider Sydney as they embark on a program of service-learning and horizon-broadening.

Over the last couple of years, as I have chatted with Year 12 students towards the end of their time at the school, the experiences that seem to have left the best memories have been the co-curricular ones. Camps and trips provide our young people with formative experiences that enrich their school experience in the long run, even if they don't necessarily love it while it is happening!