Year 7 students at St Patrick’s College Sutherland have embraced the transition to high school with a pastoral care theme that aims to include them in all aspects of life at the school.
The grade’s theme ‘Belonging’ aligns with this year’s Catholic Schools Week theme ‘I belong. You belong. We belong.’
Year 7 coordinator Mitchell O’Brien said Year 12 students wrote Christmas cards and welcome letters to the future Year 7 students during the end of year school holiday break. A two day induction program in pastoral care groups included ‘getting to know you’ activities and help navigating their new environment.
“We’re aware that a lot of them come from a smaller primary school where they are leaders and very visible members of their community, so they are initially invited to find their own place in our bigger school community,” he said. “The theme of belonging helps to make their transition to the St Pat’s family smoother.
“They had sessions on how the school diary can help them organise and manage their time, and were introduced to the St Pat’s pillars of learning – being motivated, independent and persistent.
“Then we have a peer-support program. In the smaller groups there is about five or six students and they can ask questions of their Year 11 peer support leaders and find out answers to things that they might be a little reluctant to ask in a bigger group.”
More than 500 parents and students also attended a parent information evening, also organised in pastoral care groups.
“The aim was to get to know who the other parents were in their sons’ and daughters’ pastoral care classes, and for parents to have an understanding of timetables and student diaries so they can support the students in their learning,” Mr O’Brien said.
“If the parents understand the teacher expectations, then the parents can do the follow up at home, and if the teachers understand the parent’s context we have a better understanding of the learner at school. Our families are important to us. It’s just part of the partnership that the parents step into when they belong to the St Pat’s family – a parent information evening is about the parent’s belonging too.”
Being able to belong in some way is where you are able to have a voice.
The pastoral care classes meet one a week as a year group or smaller classes. Sessions include personal development lessons and time preparing for Year 7 camp, another opportunity for students to mix in different groups, experience challenges and adventures outside of the classroom so they can build team skills and be collaborative both in and out of the classroom.
Year 7 students Elizabeth Atkins and Carl Bishop, both 12, said the pastoral care lessons had been helpful in making the transition to high school. “It was a great experience,” Elizabeth said. “We talked with all of our pastoral care teachers, did a quest around the school where we got to know all the classes, and set up our Google Drive and email accounts.
“All of the teachers were really welcoming. We got to meet a lot of new people and it was really fun. Being able to belong in some way is where you are able to have a voice. It’s really good to be able to do different activities and to be more trusted [with our learning]. It seemed really daunting at the start, but the orientation program was really helpful. It’s really good because all of the teachers are really passionate about what they’re teaching and are really experienced.”
Carl said he has become familiar with the school and liked the differences in the high school environment.
“I think we’ve settled in pretty well,” he said. “It’s so different to primary school. For instance, in primary school we used to have one teacher within the week, and now within a day we have five or six teachers. I like the difference in it. There’s more variety of what you can do, who you can play with and who you can talk to. Now I’m much more familiar with the school than I ever was and I know many more people because of that.
“The first weeks have been better than my expectations of high school. I came in thinking I might have to stick to my own friend group and I was a bit nervous about who was going to become friends with me and of the teachers were going to like me, but they’re all really welcoming. “Peer support has helped me a lot. We all have different opinions on homework and study, so it’s good to hear what others think.”
Mr O’Brien said comments on teachers trusting students to manage their time and homework load and feeling responsible for their own learning were common feedback from the students when they were surveyed about the transition to high school. “That’s really an opportunity for us to build that academic resilience in the students,” Mr O’Brien said.
“In primary school it is more teacher directed, whereas when they come to high school and there are more than 200 students in Year 7 they really have to find their own place.”