Purpose-built places outside the classroom have allowed students in these Sydney Catholic schools to grow and connect with themselves, nature and each other.
At St Felix Catholic Primary Bankstown a semi-outdoor café space gives parents the chance to build relationships with each other and their children’s teachers.
The shaded space is bordered by school canteen ‘The Patch’, a playground with vegetable garden and Year 1 and 2 classrooms. It is furnished with aqua and yellow chairs and tables, green plants, and bright peace and respect poles painted by students.
Principal Lisa Wahab mingles with parents in the space three mornings a week. “We have a beautiful canteen which serves free coffee at 9am to the parents who come and have a chat,” she said. “We make sure that a staff member comes out so if there are any questions or concerns we can help people. There’s a great interest in what is happening at the school, and conversations about safety and parking. It’s a nice debrief about what is going on in our community.”
Tuesday playgroup also runs in the space which parents and staff helped build and paint with donated materials. “The kids helped by writing letters to businesses in the community,’ Mrs Wahab said. “They own the space.”
A small wooden chapel in the back playground is also linked to wellbeing. Built by St Felix boys with the help of students from LaSalle Catholic College next door, it is run by Year 6 students as a space for prayer, meditation and quiet.
Marion Catholic Primary Horsley Park Principal Therese Gaunt trains Year 6 students to care for the school’s chickens each year. Others help to water and harvest fresh vegetables and herbs from the garden next to the coop. A stingless bee hive gifted by a parent will soon yield honey – another sweet success for those who care for the space.
“It’s good for all students because it’s an opportunity to get hands-on and look after something,” Mrs Gaunt said. “Any students that may be having emotional difficulties have a space they can go. It’s a very calming area with the plants and the garden. They might talk to the chickens or have a special role in caring for them. It gives them something to look forward to in the day and also some time out if they need it.”
Eggs, lettuce, and tomatoes go to the canteen to make lunch foods including egg muffins made from a student recipe. Other greens and corn become chicken food, and extra produce goes home.
“Students eat the snow peas straight from the vine or we put out a produce stall and they take things they want to try home. Parents love it because it is giving them an in to get their children eating fresh vegetables.”
Bright, modern and inviting, All Saints Catholic College Liverpool’s new Wellbeing Centre has cemented the school’s commitment to student wellness in the wake of the 2016 merge of boys’ and girls’ colleges.
The space includes three breakout rooms painted in primary colours, and comfortable lounges in the corridors and outside the school psychologists’ offices. The Leaders and Assistant Leaders of Wellbeing for each grade from Years 7 to 10 are also accessible at the centre.
“Good learning goes hand in hand with wellbeing so we wanted a space where students could go whether they needed time out or someone to talk to,” said Assistant Principal of Wellbeing Rachel Sampson.
“The students love it. At lunchtimes they might want to sit quietly with their friends so they come here. Also if a student exhibits challenging behaviours there is always somebody here. We were conscious we didn’t want these to be the naughty rooms – they’re a positive space. Sometimes a student may need to cool off in a quiet space.”
Pastoral care programs and newsletter inserts every two weeks also focus on building resilience and positive mental health. One of the four goals students set themselves within Individual Learning Plans is around wellbeing.
At St Joan of Arc Catholic Primary Haberfield and others, buddy benches are helping students feel included at recess and lunch. Year 2 teacher Natasha Hamilton said the benches were monitored by Year 6 student safety team members. “The aim is to help kids socialise,” she said. “If a child is feeling lonely or excluded they can sit on the buddy bench and someone will go and ask if they’re okay, or want to talk or play.”
Christ the King Catholic Primary Bass Hill also introduced a buddy bench last year. Family Educator Manuela De Almeida said the bench encouraged Mary Mackillop values, like kindness, and was a space where children could resolve conflict. “For the shy child who is scared of rejection it alleviates so much pressure to try and be accepted,” Mrs De Almeida said. “Friendships are important and it just opens up a whole new avenue to build them.”
Other Sydney Catholic schools with a buddy bench are: St Aloysius Catholic Primary Cronulla, St Mary’s Catholic Primary Georges Hall, St Christopher’s Catholic Primary Holsworthy, St Francis Xavier Catholic Primary Lurnea, Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Primary Sefton.
A passive play space at St Joseph’s Catholic Primary Enfield includes chests of large discs, blocks and other construction materials in primary colours and dress-up items in a corner of the playground with a soft-fall surface.
“The purpose of passive play is to give children lots of options during their lunchtimes, so they can play and engage well with other children,” said Principal Maria Maiorana. “We’ve found that the children are so excited by it. They’re building lots of things and are learning without knowing it.”