Wenona: where girls grow into Renaissance women

“I have 49 sisters whom I love and I’ve developed unique relationships with each of them,” says Lily Collins, a Year 12 student at Wenona on Sydney’s Lower North Shore.

Lily arrived at Wenona from Scone in the Upper Hunter Valley two years ago. Close quarters living came as a shock at first, she says: “I felt like I was constantly stimulated with people always around and after my first term in boarding I was exhausted.”

But as strangers became friends, Lily came to realise that she loves

Renaissance women … Wenona Year 12 students Charlotte Doughty and Lily Collins.

communal living. Being surrounded by girls who know and care for her is a great source of support and the best aspect of boarding is that “there is always someone to talk to when you’re feeling a bit sad.”

With new friends, come new experiences. Getting to know her extended boarding family has been eye-opening, Lily says.

“Hearing their life stories and perspectives really challenged my initial way of thinking when I started at Wenona and helped me grow as an individual.”

Flourishing through friendship is a common theme at Wenona with fellow Year 12 student Charlotte Doughty reporting a similar experience.

A day girl since Year 5, Charlotte says she was immediately won over by Wenona’s special spirit.

“From the first day I started, I fell in love with the school and the girls,” she says. “There’s something within our community, which I believe is really quite unique, that has really influenced me.”

Charlotte says Wenona has made her a more “positive and spirited” person thanks to the wonderful relationships she’s formed there and the school community’s exuberant compassion.

“A couple of years ago when Dr Scott had a health scare, our entire school came together to make a music video for one of her favourite songs and theme from the previous year, Brave. Everything else seemed insignificant, while we all banded together to sing for our principal to express our love and hope for her.”

Both girls nominate the school’s Renaissance Studies class as their favourite subject. Developed to encourage critical thinking, the course sees students consider a range of ethical, political and religious matters as they pertain to contemporary life.

Thinking deeply about global issues and questioning their own beliefs is surprisingly exhilarating, the girls find. “It’s a fantastic opportunity to engage with life beyond school in a situation where we are treated and challenged as adults,” Charlotte says.

Studying different belief systems is fascinating, Lily says, and considering one’s own problems in a global context, helps to “put your stress or fears in perspective”.

Wenona’s focus on the bigger picture is seen throughout the school, Lily says. From teachers urging students to read newspapers on a daily basis to the varied backgrounds of her fellow boarders, “everything contributed to my increasing awareness of the world around me and now I love to know what is playing out on the world stage, actively making myself aware of global events so I can engage with the other girls on a different level than just social conversations,” she says.

Next year, Lily is looking forward to studying a Bachelor of Science degree while Charlotte thinks she may take a gap year to travel and do volunteer work overseas. On her return, she hopes to study Economics or International Relations at university with the ultimate goal of working toward the betterment of society.

“I’ve always been interested in International Relations,” Charlotte says. “I believe it could lead me into a place that I find interesting and where I can make a meaningful contribution through my work.”

Spoken like a true Renaissance woman.

Independent schools offer support for busy parents

At The King’s School in Parramatta, an after-hours program that sees boys staying at school as late as 9pm every evening is proving increasingly popular with parents and students alike.

As part of the school’s “flexible boarding” policy, the Extended Day program offers relief to busy parents by allowing day boys access to boarding facilities after school.

In this safe, supervised environment, students can pursue extra-curricular activities, play sport and get their homework done with the help of overseer teachers. They even have access to shower facilities. With the day’s work accomplished and afternoon tea and a hot dinner provided, the boys are relaxed and well-fed by the time parents collect them in the early evening.

Commuting difficulties on top of long working hours can be very stressful for parents trying to fit everything into overloaded days, particularly when both are working full-time. Flexibility around school pick-up times is a welcome perk for King’s School families. Student participation in the Extended Day program has doubled since its introduction.

King’s School headmaster Dr Timothy Hawkes told the Sydney Morning Herald that growing demand for the program is due to the changing nature of family life.

“The boundaries between that which traditionally operated at home and that which traditionally operated at school are now being dissolved,” Dr Hawkes said.

“Most parents are in a dual income situation. Many might be asset rich, but they are time poor – we can help out in that regard.”

The upside for the boys, said Dr Hawkes, is the opportunity to access extra academic support while developing life skills and independence.

While extensive after-hours supervision of students, especially at the high school level, is still a rarity in Sydney, Kincoppal-Rose Bay, The Scots College in Bellevue Hill and St Joseph’s College at Hunters Hill run similar programs to that at The King’s School.

Another solution for overstretched parents is weekly or casual boarding. Many of Sydney’s boarding schools offer casual and short-stay accommodation to day students.

For older students, occasional boarding offers a number of advantages. It can help them focus harder on their studies free of the distractions of home, allow them to participate more easily in early morning and late evening extra-curricular activities, and help them forge a deeper bond with their fellow students.

Indeed, the demand for weekly boarding is driving a resurgence in boarding numbers throughout the country.

As Australian Boarding Schools’ Association executive director Richard Stokes explained to the Australian Financial Review, the trend for city kids to board during the week is partially a response to the time pressure on families and but also recognition that commuting time can be better spent.

“One of the things that is contributing to more urban boarders is the fact that in our big cities – Melbourne and Sydney and, to a lesser extent, Brisbane – families are really struggling with travel. For a child actively involved in a school’s extra-curricular program, parents might question why their child might spend an hour or more on public transport, travelling to and from school when, in fact, they could live at the school and use that time wisely.”

For more information on out of school care and residential options, parents should contact their school registrar.

Read more:

The private schools where students aren’t picked up until 8pm – Cosima Marriner, Sydney Morning Herald, January 24, 2016

Boarding schools appealing to the city as much as the country – Emily Parkinson, Australian Financial Review, May 6, 2016

Coming soon: The Southern Sydney Schools’ Expo

There are close to 300 independent schools in the Sydney metropolitan area with the greatest numbers found in the South and Southwest regions of the city. With so many schools to choose from, finding the right one for your child can be a complex undertaking.

Fortunately for families in the St George and Sutherland shires, these precincts are well-served by a wide range of excellent schools catering to students of every level of talent and ability.

To help families discover more about academic options in the area, the Southern Sydney Schools’ Expo will be held on Sunday, May 22, at the Novotel Sydney Brighton Beach.

The Expo offers parents and children the opportunity to meet face-to-face with representatives from some of Sydney’s top schools.

Expo participants include day and boarding schools, faith-based, single-sex and co-ed schools from preschool through to year 12, in one convenient location. Instead of hours of research and travelling to different schools, parents can get all the information they need in a single outing.

To get the most out of the Expo, it’s important for families to know what they’re looking for in a school.

Australian parenting website Raising Children suggests that parents take these issues into account when researching schools:

  • What do you want a school to do for your child?
  • Does your child have special language, education or other needs?
  • What’s your child’s preferred or best learning style?
  • Is location a factor in your school choice?
  • Does the school need to be within walking distance?
  • Or does your child have special transportation needs?
  • What costs are involved?
  • Is religion an important factor?
  • What are your child’s views and feelings about the school?

At the Expo, parents are encouraged to engage with school representatives and explore their offerings in detail.

Teachers and administrators are happy to answer all your questions to help you make the best decision for your child.

This is a wonderful opportunity not to be missed.

Where: The Novotel Sydney Brighton Beach, Corner Grand Parade and Princess St, Brighton Le Sands
When: Sunday, May 22, 2016
Time: 10 am to 4pm
Cost: Free
Parking: Free parking is available onsite

For more information contact Dorothy Willoughby on 0412 233 742

Read more:

School selection: practical steps – Raising Children Network with the Centre for Adolescent Health, October 26, 2015