Principal’s Update – 28 February 2019

The opening weeks for Santa Sabina College in its 125th year have been full of joy and celebration. We are looking back on our rich Catholic Dominican history and traditions, and looking forward to the school we want to be into the future. However we acknowledge that we are in a difficult and challenging place as a Catholic school in the wake of this week’s conviction of Cardinal George Pell on historic sexual abuse charges. The President of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, Archbishop Mark Coleridge, has made a statement to the Australian community which you can read here. He rightfully advises that we ‘respect the Australian legal system’ through which Cardinal Pell has been found guilty, and also appreciate that the legal process is not complete, and an appeal may follow. In respecting the legal system, we are not in a position to engage in discussion about the nature of the case or its outcome. Our focus and commitment is to support our students, staff and wider members of the Santa Sabina community who will respond in different ways and with different feelings. We know that the impact and legacy of sexual abuse is shocking and tragic for the victims, their families and friends. We are committed to providing a child-safe environment, and following the Royal Commission into Institutionalised Responses to Sexual Abuse, have renewed our efforts and training in the light of evidence from the Commission.

If you have concerns about your children’s reactions to this week’s news, please communicate directly with the Heads of School, Mrs Sharon Portlock P-5, Mr Steven O’Connor 6-12, or the Head of Pastoral Care, Ms Ann McGovern P-12.

Many thanks to our wonderful P&F for helping the College to host its first Middle Years Family evening. With over four hundred parents and students present, we began the evening with a Mass followed by visits to each student’s Homeroom to meet their Homeroom teacher, and then to the College Hall for the great Australian tradition of a sausage sizzle. It was a warm, friendly gathering, with parents meeting each other and also meeting College Executive, Heads of House and Homeroom teachers. The Middle Years led by our Director of Holistic Learning, Ms Santina Gambrill, is a very significant stage in education – a time for growing independence, exercising choice, taking risks with learning, and being ‘brave not perfect’. The Middle Years students will soon be electing their leaders, and taking an active role in issues of interest and concern to the community.

Congratulations to the following students who have been outstanding athletes in swimming and athletics over the past week.

These Primary students have made it through to the regionals in swimming:

  1. Senior freestyle relay: Abbie Crakanthorp, Florence Ata, Tanisha McDonald, Chloe Williams (1st)

  2. 10yrs 50m freestyle: Anise Olah (2nd)

  3. 11yrs 50m freestyle: Abbie Crakanthorp (1st)

  4. 11yrs 50m backstroke: Emily Wan (1st)

  5. 11yrs 50m backstroke: Mia Papavramidis (1st)

  6. 11yrs 50m butterfly: Tanisha McDonald (1st)

In the Athletics NSW Junior Championships, Nicolette Donofrio won a gold medal in her 100m hurdle and bronze in the 200m. We are still awaiting the results for the 100m sprint. Renee Lewis came second (silver medal) in the 1500m.

Great achievements all round!

The importance of involvement in sport, leadership and co-curricular activities more generally have been highlighted in a recent project undertaken by Dr Terrance (Terry) Fitzsimmons, Dr Miriam Yates and Professor Victor Callan of the University of Queensland Business School in cooperation with the Alliance of Girls’ Schools Australasia and the Australian Gender Equality Council. The Hands Up report investigated over twenty activities commonly undertaken by children and teens and pinpointed the top three contributors to self-confidence in both girls and boys as being travel, team sport, and leadership opportunities. Other significant contributing factors include having a part-time job, doing chores, playing a musical instrument, and participating in unsupervised activities.

In general terms, the study authors found that activities that are not supervised by adults provide a greater source of self-confidence than those that are supervised. That is not to say that children’s activities should be completely unsupervised, but that “the confidence boost comes from implementing or engaging in the activity, or significant proportions of the activity, without direct adult oversight”.

The researchers note while there is a temptation in this age of increased scrutiny and legal liability to not allow children as much freedom and free time as in the past, “this comes at a potential cost to children’s levels of self-efficacy”. Therefore, “wherever possible, children should be given unsupervised freedom to explore, interact and learn about their environment”.

It is for this reason that, while all travel boosts self-confidence, it is local and inter-country travel, rather than international travel, that provides the greatest contribution. In particular, the Hands Up for Gender Equality study found the greatest effect size for local travel where children and teens are more likely to be allowed to spend unsupervised time away from adults.

Alongside local travel, school excursions have been identified as vital to the development of self-confidence. Excursions which take children outside of their immediate town or city environment, involve leadership development, enhance outdoor skills, and involve minimal supervision were found to be most valuable. In fact, write the report authors:

‘While there is a great deal of focus on academic performance of children and pressures from parents to ensure maximum classroom time in this regard, the results of this study identify excursions and family travel as the primary source of the development of self-confidence’.

Participation in team sport was found to produce the second highest overall contribution to self-confidence, particularly where girls and boys hold sports leadership roles such as team captain. There was no difference between genders, with the study finding that girls attending single-sex schools derive just as much confidence from participating in team sports as boys attending single-sex schools.

The researchers found that, on average, girls spend nearly 4.5 hours per week playing team sports while boys spend nearly 6 hours per week. Both boys and girls spend just over four hours per week playing individual sport and 2.5 hours per week walking/hiking/orienteering.

The third most influential factor in developing self-confidence is leadership development. The University of Queensland study found that leadership experiences — whether holding a leadership role or taking part in leadership courses — provide equally positive benefits for students. In addition, the boost to self-confidence occurs whether the leadership role is current or past, and is independent of year level or the age of the student.

It is interesting to note that of the more than twenty activities examined for the Hands Up for Gender Equality report, the greatest detractors from the development of self-confidence were social media usage and computer gaming. Furthermore, the findings of this report that travel, team sport and leadership opportunities provide the greatest boost to self-confidence in children directly mirror the results of Dr Terry Fitzsimmon’s 2011 study of self-confidence in Chief Executive Officers.

I hope you find these results of value and that you discuss them with your children. They certainly reinforce the importance of our outdoor education programs, leadership and sporting opportunities. Please encourage your children to get involved in this wider aspect of their school lives.

I enjoyed meeting and talking to parents at Del Monte in two recent ‘Coffee and Conversations’. It’s a lovely informal opportunity to chat, respond to questions, and just to find out more about what parents need to further support their children. I look forward to similar opportunities soon in the Middle Years.

I include in this update the prayer that was said in all Homerooms Years 6-12 today.

Dear Loving and Compassionate God,

Giver of all gifts, we pray especially today for the mercy and love you give us.

Open our hearts and minds to you. Give us the grace to accept your mercy.

As we live each day, we pray for those less fortunate, especially those who are hurting, and whose wounds need to be healed.

Help us become involved in ways that show them how deeply we care.

Give us the personal courage to listen to their concerns and help them find the solutions to which they are entitled…

… as your children and our brothers and sisters.

Dr Maree Herrett