St Catherine’s School: Wagga Wagga student back for her second year

GWEN Fellows is more prepared this time around.

The Wagga Wagga mum and her husband, Brett, will next week say goodbye to their 15-year-old daughter, Gabrielle, who will start her second year of boarding school as a Year 10 student at St Catherine’s School.

Tears may roll, but they’re likely to be Gwen’s, not Gabrielle’s.

“I won’t lie, it has been hard for me,” said Gwen, who was pleased with her daughter’s first year at the independent girls’ school in Toorak.

Parents in rural communities across the country may identify with Gwen’s feelings.

Many will be helping children pack suitcases, rather than backpacks, this week. After the long school run — often hundreds of kilometres — they’ll be on high alert for that first Facetime chat.

“You don’t want to not have your children with you, but you want the best for them,” Gwen said.

“Gabrielle knows the drill. It is going to be a great year. She will be given all these opportunities and she is excited to go back.”

Gwen grew up on a farm and went to boarding school as a child. She and Brett chose boarding for their daughter to give her the same opportunities.

“Boarding is about learning to be your own person,” she said. “It teaches you a lot about yourself and other people.”
Gwen said she chose St Catherine’s for its close-knit community of teachers and families who work together to nurture “well rounded, confident, resilient girls”.

“Gabrielle has studied things and participated in activities that she didn’t have the opportunity to do here,” Gwen said. “She and her peers in one particular class developed and established a business. They ran the business, sold items and made a profit.

“She is learning, but she is loving what she is learning in a positive way.”

Daily tutoring, co-curricular sports, the chance to travel overseas and warm pastoral care all helped Gabrielle settle in last year. Flexible scheduling meant that Gabrielle could visit day students’ families and develop an extended support network on top of the pastoral care available in the boarding house.

At home in Wagga Wagga, Gwen adjusted to life without Gabrielle with help from St Catherine’s head of boarding Sue Collister, who maintained frequent and effective communication.

“We have missed Gabrielle dreadfully,” Gwen said. “But Sue is a really good mix of caring but firm, and she communicates really well. When you are 500km away that is a pretty big deal.”

Gwen said phone calls with Gabrielle during her first terms at school were comforting most of the time, but not always.

“We were on the phone a lot,” she said. “It is easy for them to ring when they are upset and it is hard as a parent to be dealing with that.”

The boarding staff were effective at smoothing things when needed.

“They knew when she wasn’t happy or was upset,” Gwen said.

“Because it is a smaller environment they have their finger on that. But they also give the kids space to grow and work things out for themselves.”

Gwen’s advice for parents considering boarding school is to start researching at least three years in advance, attend rural expos, visit campuses, meet staff and tour boarding houses. She encourages parents to let their children stay overnight if the opportunity is available.

“We did school visits that culminated in Gabrielle doing a sleepover at St Catherine’s,” Gwen said.

“It is a great concept.

“When I went to boarding school, you were just packed off,” she said.

“Now they try it. It gives them a chance to see what school is like, which I think it is fantastic.

“She did that and she wanted to go.”

The Weekly Times

January Boarding

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