Last year the Australian Council for Educational Research published research that confirms what most people in the field of education already know: for many students, a sense of belonging at school is indicative of educational success and long-term health and wellbeing. The report also clearly shows that a student’s sense of belonging to their school has been found to promote positive attitudes towards learning. Students who feel part of and accepted by their school community are not only more likely to participate in school activities, both academic and non-academic, but will be actively engaged in these activities. Helping Year 7 students to develop their sense of connection and wellbeing is incredibly important to us in Middle School. The seriousness of this endeavour is even more significant when we consider that some experts claim Year 7 students need to learn over 500 new routines when they start their secondary school experience.
Our Year 7 program is intentionally focussed on helping all 262 students successfully navigate the transition from primary to secondary school. We offer a thorough student-centred program that starts in May of the previous year and we focus on friendship-making and positive relationships over the course of Term 1 and beyond. Experiences like camp Toona are incredibly important in helping students to forge new and lasting friendships and we know the students appreciate the cap on homework across their subjects in Term 1.
We’re now part-way through the school year and most Year 7 students have certainly mastered their 500 new routines, or are well on the way to doing so. We thought it timely, therefore, to share in some of that success by learning first-hand from two Year 7 students about just what has made their year so enjoyable to date. Lily joined Middle School from Junior School Kew and Lachlan is new to Carey this year having transitioned from Canterbury Primary School (although his parents met at Carey as students, so there exists a strong family connection to the School). His overwhelming sense of Middle School is that there are lots of people and good structural support to ensure that ‘everyone manages just great’. Lily’s mantra of, ‘take up every opportunity’ is fairly typical of the enthusiasm we see from our Year 7 cohort.
Although she had a few nervous jitters at the start of the year, Lily’s sense that she knew what to expect came from having participated in the pre-entry transition programs. Mostly, Lily was excited about entering Middle School. She commented that she knew some things would be the same – like her music lessons – but most would be widely different to what she was used to. Lily also attributed her success this year to the support she has received from her parents. She explained that her mum and dad will often check in with her about homework and she knows she can speak to them about anything that is going at school. Lily has really enjoyed the House events this year and the community feel she has experienced through her APS netball and swim teams.
This same kind of community spirit is also evident in Lily’s class group, with whom she spends most of her time during the school day. Lily loves to learn and enjoys moving in and out of different subjects, content and teachers. She especially enjoys her learning in Drama and English because, as she described, ‘I get to express myself and my ideas’. This year Lily is also a member of the Student Representative Council (SRC). It’s meant she reflects the views of her fellow Tranter House students at a larger Middle School student meeting each fortnight. Again, this opportunity has led to Lily meeting new people, testing out her own ideas and thinking about important aspects of Middle School.
Lachlan loved his camp Toona experience; in fact, it was the highlight of his year so far. He also appreciates all the choice and different options that he has as a student at a large and well-resourced school. He hasn’t taken any of that granted, throwing his hand up to also be an SRC member and getting involved in as many co-curricular activities as possible. The subjects Lachlan enjoys the most are History and Maths. He explains that, ‘It’s fun to see what happened in the past and how that shapes the world today’ and he ‘just loves problem solving!’ Lachlan also feels like his teachers know him very well and that they’re able to help him improve his learning. Like Lily, a highlight for Lachlan has been found in the connections – and competitions – offered through the House system.
Lily and Lachlan both admire their Year 9 student House leaders and recognise that they have been pivotal in helping them transition so successfully into life in Middle School. Lily said that, ‘they are all always so friendly’ and Lachlan noted that his leaders ‘respect everyone’. They shared similar praise for the Heads of House and Mentors with whom Lily and Lachlan work. They both feel very supported by their House staff. Indeed, our Heads of Houses and Mentors work closely with the student leaders to help generate that sense of connection and camaraderie that is clear in the reflections from Lily and Lachlan. It’s the same sense of connection that the research tells us is so fundamental to student success at school.
Psychologist William James famously said, ‘[t]he greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.’ Although Lily and Lachlan have both had a tremendously positive start to their time in Middle School, we know that won’t always be the case for all students. No one is happy all of the time and experiencing negative emotions is what makes us human. The ability to be aware of these emotions, however, and employ positive coping skills is well proven to increase overall wellbeing. We would want to hear from our Year 7 students, or their parents, if it was felt they were experiencing some difficulties or prolonged worries about their life at school. We do ultimately believe that our Middle School wellbeing program in its broadest sense – academic, physical, emotional and spiritual – provides Year 7 students with real opportunities to develop their purpose, meaning and belonging. Pivotal to that process, of course, is the connection we share between home and school.
Deputy Head of Middle School – Student Wellbeing