When you walk into a school (just like when you walk into a house, or any other building for that matter), you get a feel about it. In oriental societies, it is sometimes known as “feng shui”. In Australia (following on from the iconic movie, ’The Castle’), we might call it the ‘vibe’ of the place.
For me, every school is completely different. Indeed, in this series of articles, where we will be celebrating our Canberra schools, I aim to capture those unique differences and give a snapshot of each school, and their individual school communities from the point of view of the staff, the students and the local community in general.
Meeting with Acting Principal, Colleen Rowe last week, I was thrilled to chat about the very notion of what makes St Francis Xavier College so special. This is the year in which the school is going to be celebrating its 40th anniversary, so the timing was simply perfect!
Colleen started describing the way that the architecture of the school reflects the school’s priority of “community” building. The expanded building program is focused on providing a comfortable ‘gathering space’, where the students can feel relaxed and at home, and which is conducive to building that community that is at the very core of the school. She says that it’s people who matter most, and the students are always the number one priority.
“We want to be the school of opportunities, where the whole community works together and supports the students to achieve the best outcomes for them all.” Colleen emphasised, “It’s always about the students. And just wandering through the special ‘safe’ places we have created through our building program, you can feel that sense of ‘home’ and ‘safe nooks and havens’; this is the environment that is most conducive to learning.”
And in relation to the students, I got to ask some of them what they thought of their school. It really was a most valuable insight. Here’s what they had to say:
“I think that we are such a welcoming community, and because of that, there is a broad range of people here in both students and staff. This is what I love about school; the people. It’s easy to find people you can connect with, and there are so many people who want to support you in reaching your goals. I’m very grateful for that.” Eoin Garton Yr 12 School Captain
“SFX is a great community. You feel safe; like home. It’s really like a second home here.” Joseph Kenna Yr 12.
“The school has such a supportive network of teachers caring for us.” Faith Kerehona Yr 12.
“At SFX we feel welcomed into the community because everyone is friendly and supportive. There’s always an opportunity to express yourself. All the teachers help with whatever we don’t understand and make our learning tasks suitable for our level, so we can achieve.” Elarah Cartwright and Tayami Woods year 7.
“Teachers are nice and personal even if they are not your Pastoral Leader. It is a very friendly school where you feel close to people. You feel like we are all here to look after each other. This makes it easy when you go to a new class where you don’t know anyone. There is always someone there to be a friend for you.” Mia Thornton, Elin Beech, Madeleine Woodward and Courtney Csordas Year 10.
So that pretty well backs up exactly what Colleen Rowe had pointed out earlier; in this school, sense of community is the number one priority. And then, of course, Colleen mentions that the welfare of the staff is also of prime significance within the school, and nurturing the staff through the pressures of work intensification that has occurred throughout the education system today, in terms of the demands on a teachers’ time, is important.
“The level of expectation re compliance has never been more demanding than it is today, and most teachers throughout the system would agree with that observation,” Colleen admits. “So we do go out of our way to nurture our staff as best we can.”
The Principal, Angus Tulley, was recently invited to attend the Estimates Committee to represent the school in relation to the big question of funding reforms. He had been keen to point out that St Francis Xavier was not a privileged school, and that there were many refugee families from Africa being supported, as well as fee-subsidised families who are also needing support in tough times. Many parents are double-income working parents, who prioritise education for their children, and then, often work hard, and perhaps struggle to pay the fees for their children.
Although it is a school that, according to SES (Socio-Economic Status), rates along side of Geelong Grammar, the two schools are not in the least alike in terms of the school community’s socio-economic status. There is a much broader cross-section of society within this school than in many others.
The fact that Colleen’s own children went through SFX and loved it also shows. And this makes her an invaluable staff member, and leader in the school, who empathises with the parent community, having been there and done that herself. And on further investigation, many staff have had their children go through the school and come out richer for the experience, forever grateful that they got to go there – including my own son.
Yes, as the first ‘cab off the rank’ of schools we are featuring, SFX was an excellent first choice. This little education community has much going for it.
St Francis Xavier College
Barnard Circuit, Florey ACT 2615