The strength of our community is collective. Alexandra Conroy-Ryan, Year 11 student
We must not pause our learning for any pandemic! Claudia Casson, Year 11 student
At this time of year at Melbourne Girls Grammar we look forward to significant markers — transition and ceremonies unique to our community. During the pandemic, we have needed to be creative in the ways in which we provide these ‘rites of passage’ to welcome our new Grammarians. Through necessity, our transition program has become a hybrid of virtual introductions, webinars, and in-person transition days. We have learned to be agile; to reframe our traditions and look for opportunities to implement them differently and creatively. In the last weeks, we have held transition webinars for Years 5 and 7 and interviewed, through virtual panels, candidates for the 2022 School Captaincy roles. Despite the pandemic, we continue to ensure our Grammarians remain optimistic, engaged and step through the rituals we know form character and set them on their pathway to adulthood.
The election of student leaders for the Student Executive Council (SEC) and Captains of the School is a significant milestone in the MGGS calendar. The 2022 Captains Elect, begin to be inducted into these roles by the current captains across all SEC portfolios. Our Grammarians approach this with an impressive seriousness and put their ‘all’ into their applications and their handing over of leadership responsibilities. It is testimony of their love of their School. After a rigorous community election process, I am pleased to announce that the School Captain for 2022 is Ahelee Rahman and the School Vice Captains are Anna Boreham and Claudia Casson. I congratulate every Year 11 who put their hand up for consideration. The applications were of an exceptional level, and each illustrated the hours of service, contribution, and commitment already made. I encourage them all to continue their leadership quest by considering standing for the leadership of another portfolio.
The phrase ‘rites of passage’ comes from the work of anthropologist Gennep (1909) and is the anglicisation of ‘rite de passage’. They define ceremonial events that perform the role of punctuation points or clear markers deeply connected from the transitioning of one stage of our lives to the next. These ‘rites’ are unique to each culture and form important psychological affiliation to community. All over the world, these rites of passage anchor us to us our communities. As humans, we usually look forward to, and reflect on, these rituals for many years to come; they can be as simple as birthdays, graduations, engagements, christenings, or weddings.
In educational settings, these ‘rites’ often form important parts of transition from one segment of schooling to the next. Each age and developmental stage have traditions that we embrace and that help guide the growth and attachment of the group. Think of the transitioning from Early Learning to Preparatory, from Year 6 to Year 7 and probably most significantly the transition from Year 12 to the wider community. Each period is marked with occasions including many ‘firsts’ — big and small. These could be the first day of school, Year 6 Graduation, the individual choice of electives, Year 7 Camp, Confirmation, Sport representation, travelling overseas without parents, Work Experience, Senior Formals, Valedictory, and Speech Night.
One of the reasons the period known as the Middle Years is so important is that it marks the period from childhood to early adulthood and much happens to the developing child physically, socially, emotionally, and psychologically during this time. At MGGS we place much attention on the transition points of entry into Years 5 and 7 to facilitate smoothness and comfort for both students and their families. Our carefully curated transition programs focus on three distinct areas including: ensuring the girls are comfortable in their new physical environments; making sure that they are familiar with programs and processes; and most importantly that they are connected to their peers and are known by our staff. A key element to a successful transition is ensuring our students feel comfortable at the School and develop a sense of belonging that helps them thrive with acquired confidence and independence. This is just the beginning of the Middle Years story though – through the four years they gain so many skills that set them up successfully for the Senior Years and beyond. These aren’t necessarily synonymous with the end of primary school. The Wildfell experience is unique to MGGS. It provides students in Years 5 and 6 an opportunity to commence personalised learning and gives them the ability to choose electives. As Wildfell is situated on our Merton Hall campus, our Grammarians are introduced to subject matter experts earlier than most students their age. Academic and researcher, Barber, puts forward that there are often low expectations of what students can achieve in the first years of secondary school, and our MGGS model sets high expectations throughout the developmental continuum of learning earlier than usual so that our students are less likely to experience a ‘performance dip’. (Barber, 1999).
Our Middle Years program builds upon an inquiry learning model through techniques such as experiential learning with Pathways Planning staff scaffolding both support and stretch activities. Our Middle Years Grammarians have opportunities for horizontal and vertical friendships through our vibrant House system. We are proud of the seamless journey from Morris Hall through to the Middle Years. Arriving at ‘high school’ shouldn’t be a shockingly sharp entrance but a natural progression. Values and lessons are designed and layered to ensure our Grammarians are prepared for anything. We focus on curriculum continuity, fostering a deep sense of place, and increased autonomy as our Grammarians traverse the phases of their middle years of education.
At Melbourne Girls Grammar we know that transition planning is most likely to be successful when it supports students in their development of new friendships. Improving self-esteem and confidence and helping them to settle well into their new school campus and life, also helps reduce parental concern. Positive signs that transition has been positive is an increasing interest in school and schoolwork and looking forward to new routines and school organisation. (Holdsworth, 2010) Together MGGS and home can work in tandem to ensure the best experiences for our Grammarians.
There is a rather handsome large white dog at MGGS known as Dante; or fondly known as ‘Dr Dante’ as his MGGS Identity card on his lanyard reads. He belongs to Year 9 and resides in the Year 9 Learning Commons. I walked past Dante during our recent lockdown and he was looking rather lonely, without his year level pals around him. I am wondering if a Year 9 student could take him home for an exeat. I wrote about Dante in the Messenger in 2019 when he was proudly and collectively purchased by our students (with the help of Ms Scott) in a Healesville Tourist Shop on the way to the Toolangi Year 7 Camp. Dante was ever present at Year 7 Camp; he was at the high ropes, at the campfire cooking damper, and he bonded with and accompanied our 7 Year cohort to every camp task and occasion. Since the Year 7 Camp, Dante has visited my office, the Phelia Grimwade Drawing Room, assemblies, Chapel, and every co-curricular event you can name — even remote learning! I am sure that Dante will be there at the Year 11 and Year 12 Formals, and Valedictory when the time comes.
Dante has become a symbolic member of the current Year 9 milestones. This seemingly eccentric mascot speaks volumes of the rites of passage and the importance of recognising that transition periods need to be observed and studied. I know that this Year 9 cohort exhibits a sense of affiliation, interdependence and belonging, and have transitioned well to our Senior Years program.
As our Class of 2021 prepare for their upcoming VCE exams and make ready to graduate and farewell thirteen years of schooling, let us remember the importance of this distinctive transition point and hold up Valedictory as a significant rite of passage. In a unique time in history, let us collectively recognise the achievements and contributions to the life of their schools by our young Australians. Our words and deeds at these times matter. If we as educators do it well, it will serve to be a strong foundation for the next chapter in the lives of these young adults.
As our sixth lockdown continues, we are collectively buoyed when we reach out to each other. Take care, be well and lend support where it’s needed. It is amazing how an unexpected phone call, delivery of home baked goods, or a Zoom chat can lift the clouds and focus us on the beauty of our skies as we transition out of Winter and into Spring.
Yours in learning
Dr Toni E. Meath
Barber, M. (1999) Taking the Tide at the Flood: Transforming Education in the Middle Years, Middle Years of Schooling Conference, Melbourne, 28th March 1999
Holdsworth, R. (2010) Transition and Engagement, Research Document 6, Student Wellbeing Unit, Catholic Education Office Melbourne
Van Gennep, A. (1909) Les rites du passage, Translated by Monika B. Vizedom and Gabrielle L. Caffee, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1960