The transition from junior to secondary school can be daunting for any child, but particularly when it also involves relocating from home in the country to become a boarder in Perth. So, what can schools do to support such a big change?
Penrhos College is well-established as one of Perth’s leading girls’ schools. Its boutique boarding house is kept purposefully small (with numbers capped at 100) so that each girl can feel safe and secure as part of the Penrhos boarding family, and so that she can – unusually – have her very own single room from the outset. The College researches extremely well in terms of its strong pastoral support program for boarders and their families, with dedicated buddy programs for girls and their parents, along with regular bespoke communications, social media and events for country families. The latest support initiative for incoming Year 7 and 8 students is Penrhos’ Boarding Transition Program, designed to specifically underpin the girls’ academic transition with remote specialist support in numeracy, literacy and digital technologies throughout the Semester prior to the move.
Penrhos Dean of Teaching and Learning, Nicole Blyth, explains how the Program is invaluable to regional families whose daughters leave home from age 12 for educational opportunities in the city.
“We recognise that students joining us from regional areas have diverse backgrounds, skills and levels of learning. By connecting prior to the start of the school year, we can assess capabilities, begin to establish good habits – for example, in terms of self-organisation – and provide early intervention and development initiatives. By being well prepared, we can make sure the academic transition is one less thing for girls and their families to worry about. We want to make sure every student is supported to achieve her personal best from the start.”
The Penrhos Boarding Transition Program is delivered via a range of online tools such as Reading Plus, Mangahigh Math games and WebEx video conferencing. Teachers who are in regular remote contact with incoming boarders naturally begin to establish individual mentoring relationships which help girls feel secure and reassured when they recognise familiar faces both on-line and on arrival.
For families, the Program is further complemented by Penrhos’ boarding family Orientation Program, which includes a full Orientation Day, a new boarding parents’ dinner, a Year 7 Early Start Day, and welcome BBQ at which new boarding families are encouraged to socialise and network with current day families. Some Penrhos families also have sons at brother school, Wesley College in South Perth; both Colleges encourage regular away-from-home sibling contact through monthly boarders’ dinners and other co-ed socials.
Penrhos regularly taps into its boarding community with focus groups and surveys to check how families are faring. “Our social events prove very popular,” says Head of Boarding Michele Hay, “because new girls and their families have so many emotions to deal with, it’s invaluable for parents to have the opportunity to share experiences – and to grow support networks – with like families.”
“We also encourage our boarding families to mix with day parents, so they have extended support in Perth. Our Boarders Farmers Market Day is especially popular with everyone – our boarding families bring in their home produce and our metro families come in to enjoy it … and, of course, to meet the boarders.”
“In the recent COVID-19 situation, when the boarding house was closed, we were delighted that so many of our day families offered to take in our boarders so they could continue their schooling, face-to-face.”
Penrhos Full Circle Psychologists offer further support to new boarding parents, with access to remote online workshops and webinars across a range of topics including managing mixed emotions when daughters leave home, managing anxiety and emotional coaching. Psychologist Tracy Hart says, “thanks to technology, we are perfectly positioned to run support workshops for regional families looking for guidance on remote parenting in partnership with the College”.