Investing in the Next Generation of Girls
The new year has brought exciting changes to St Catherine’s Junior School, with the completion of a brand new building, known as Barbreck, and the introduction of personalised academic learning plans.
Karen McArdle, the new Head of Junior School, says St Catherine’s wanted to create an environment where students could develop and thrive. While she notes that learning is not dependent on the physical environment alone, she believes the new junior school building provides a space to inspire.
“It is purpose-built, so it was designed with the idea of best learning conditions in mind,” Ms McArdle says. “The building is beautiful. It has a very soft feel to it, and as you walk through, the atmosphere is calm. The rooms are engaging and there is so much natural light.”
The three-storey building has a library and resource centre; a performing arts auditorium for the music, art, dance, public speaking and drama curriculum, with rehearsal space and a music classroom; an art studio and gallery showcasing students’ work; an outside playing and sports precinct, known as the Village Green; and dedicated classrooms such as the STEM lab and language lab.
“The STEM lab is an area that our Barbreck girls are very eager to get into. It is beautifully set up for learning science, engineering, maths and design all in one room.”
The STEM curriculum covers scientific discovery, construction, virtual reality, coding and robotics.
“The other day, I asked the girls what they were doing. They said, ‘We have been learning about binary code and working out how it is used in the interface between a website and a user.’ The fact that they could articulate that was amazing.
“Our STEM teacher is really passionate. I think that passion has definitely been transferred to the girls because they show real excitement about those subjects.”
French is offered in the junior years, and the language lab uses a green screen to create an immersive environment.
“The program is designed so that the students are talking in French the majority of the time. They are quite conversational now,” she says. “The screen is used to place the girls in different locations and situations, which makes it more real for them.”
Ms McArdle was appointed Head of Junior School at the beginning of the year. With a background in school leadership, curriculum development, and teaching and learning, she introduced personalised academic plans for literacy and numeracy.
“In term one, we had meetings with each staff member after they had analysed the students’ writing and gathered samples. We performed another level of analysis and were able to work out where the year level focus needed to be and what goals to set for individual students,” Ms McArdle explains. “For example, some girls might only be writing in simple sentences, so a goal for them might be to start moving into writing compound sentences.”
She says the personalised academic plans, targeted lessons and small class sizes give teachers the ability to focus on individual students. “We are better able to analyse, track improvements and show parents exactly how much their child is progressing.
“It is an investment in our next generation of young girls. The changes very much reflect St Catherine’s commitment to the early years of education, and our focus is always on the students, which is what I believe in.”
By Arianna Lucente
Independent Schools Guide, Sunday Age
26 May 2019