By Lisa Marquis – Alum (1992) and Mother of Kate Marquis (Year 11 boarder)
I often joke that I have green blood – I am a very proud Old Girl and Veteran, having attended Penrhos College from Pre-Primary to Year 12. With two sisters also at the College, our family was part of the Penrhos community for nearly 20 years.
The decision to send our daughter Kate away to school was an incredibly difficult one to make as a family, but also for me as the Associate Principal of a local secondary school. As a ‘Day Bug’, my experience of Penrhos boarding was limited to breakfast in the boarding house after swimming training and having boarder friends stay on weekends
At first, the thought of being 750km away from our daughter for weeks on end seemed unfathomable; would boarding change our relationship with Kate and her relationship with her little brother? Talking to friends with children at boarding school was reassuring, and really helped us prepare for those first few months.
In stark contrast, Kate was on cloud nine; having toured the Penrhos campus and, with the uniform fitting complete, she was excited to begin her boarding school experience. Each new boarder is appointed a ‘Boarding Buddy’ to assist their transition; current student Ashley Young kept in contact over the summer holidays, reassuring the already enthusiastic Kate of the fun she would have as a Penrhos Boarder.
Boarding Captain Montana Nicholls and her mum were there to welcome us when we arrived after the long drive from Esperance. After helping unpack the car and showing us where to take Kate’s things, I remember Montana’s mum giving my arm a reassuring squeeze. “It will be ok, mum,” she confidently told me. I realised then, we weren’t sending Kate away on her own – we were sending her to friends and a boarding family who, as the years have gone by, have proven time and again to be the very best substitute family we could ask for. While I still feel sad dropping Kate back to the Menai Boarding House, I always know she is in great hands.
Of course, Kate has moments when she is anxious about school, her friends and how she will manage to juggle all the activities she wants to do. We speak at least three times a day and, while some calls end in tears, or with me giving an unwelcome opinion, our relationship is strengthened by the fact that we are separated for long periods. When we do spend time together, we are both so appreciative that we make the most of every minute.
I have watched Kate blossom over the years with great pride. Making decisions and sorting out problems independently has strengthened her character and increased her resilience. She’s made lifelong friends with girls and their families from all over the state, and in the tight-knit boarding community, I now have a wide-reaching network of amazing women who understand the difficulties and challenges of having their daughters away at school.
Living in Esperance, Kate rarely saw her Perth-based grandparents, aunties, uncles and cousins. Boarding at Penrhos has allowed her to spend so much time with our extended family, and I can rely on my mum and sisters to drop off forgotten items, deliver a big hug or a cheeky Diet Coke when Kate is stressed about assessments. They attend every concert and award ceremony, and my mum has Kate’s boarding friends over to stay for the weekend, just as she had mine.
I thoroughly enjoyed having Kate home during the recent Boarding House closure, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Seeing her participate in the remote learning program over Webex, it was clear that Kate’s educational needs were met, but it was the strong bonds of friendship and Penrhos’ continued focus on care and connection that helped Kate through.
It’s the clear focus on pastoral care that I believe sets Penrhos apart from other private schools in Perth. The care shown by Mrs Hay, Mrs Calloway, and Health Centre staff; the pastoral staff and teachers who have always made the distance between us seem so easy to navigate; all have made the last five years so much easier for us as a family, and better than we could have ever imagined. And, while I know Kate loves returning home to us and spending time at the beach with her Esperance friends, she is always excited to head back to her substitute family and friends at school and in the Boarding House.