September 7, 2008

I’m doing this on Sunday September 7 2008, and thought I’d catch you up on the life of the school in the last week or two. Out of sheer perversity I’ll work my way backwards in describing the days, starting yesterday morning (Saturday), when teachers came in to meet with child psychotherapist Carolyn Aston, to discuss some of the issues which concern us about working successfully with children. I’ve now had five recent conversations with Carolyn, to assist me in dealing with the many (often conflicting) forces at work in a school like this, and will meet with her again soon to get her thoughts on how we can improve our practices and procedures.

The Year 9’s came back from Melbourne the afternoon before, Friday. They had gone there by public transport after school Thursday, accompanied by teachers Wendy and Sarita. They found their way to the house in Brunswick where they were to stay, and spent Friday navigating their way around Melbourne carrying out a variety of assignments. This was one of the final preparation activities for their trip to Italy, which begins in about a month, and it went extremely well.
Among other activities they have undertaken for their Italian adventure are the study of Italian every Monday evening (throughout the year), after school at the Victorian School of Languages in Gisborne (again accompanied by Wendy and Sarita), and the study of `Italian Opera and Chocolate’ with Scott, as a compulsory Friday morning activity this term. Today they’re selling hot chocolates at Gisborne as one of their final fund-raising activities.  A donation last week of $1500, from the Toccolan Business Club was a welcome fillip to their funds.
They’ve had a busy year really. They completed First Aid to Level 2 standard earlier in the year, again as a compulsory Friday activity, did a three-day bike camp at Beechworth, hiked for three days from Trentham to Candlebark, did a four-day hike along the Cross-Cut Saw, (encompassing mountains like Speculation and Howitt), had a four day ski camp recently which included camping in tents in the snow for a night, and through it all have stuck to their studies well.
Included in Friday’s activities on offer to everyone except Year 9’s in this week just concluded were Hockey, Knitting, Rube Goldberg Machines, 500 in Spanish, Garden Path-making, Making Fathers’ Day cards (using natural materials), Bushwalk with the Horses and Donkeys, and Stagecraft and Drama. I also had about twenty adults and children who are interested in becoming Candlebark families here for a tour, and after I’d spoken to them for a while a number of our students showed them around the school.
Also on Friday, the older girls (Year 7) who are teaching netball to younger children had another training session, at lunchtime. Lunchtimes and free time here see such an outpouring of wonderful young energy. I’ve never seen a school where kids are so active. Currently cricket is back in vogue, but a game of handball proceeds in the very middle of the cricket pitch every day, without either group getting offended or angry. It’s negotiation in action. The bowlers just time their deliveries to coincide with the handball players being out of the line of fire. A running/jumping game continues to be popular. Kids scoot past on scooters, race past on bikes, get pushed past on billycarts, skate past on skates. Hopscotch games are drawn on the concrete with chalk. Recently many children have been making posters for the fete. There’s always groups in classrooms, making up their own dance routines, doing schoolwork, reading, playing board games or cards, drawing or making craft items, or (once a fortnight) enjoying their turn to play games in the computer room.

Throughout last week and the one before, at recess and lunchtimes, Scott has been auditioning students for roles in the end-of-year play, which he has written specially for Candlebark. Basil has been offering the facilities of the Art Room for those who wish to work on or finish art pieces (I recommend a visit to inspect Fletcher’s shark’s fin), and Basil has been assisting Year 7/8’s with the editing of their dance videos. As well, Claire is rehearsing different groups for the soiree.

At Friday’s morning meeting the Grade 2’s under the direction of Taran played a piece of Brazilian mambo music. At Thursday’s meeting Zan read a book which she has co-authored with her mother and which will be published by Omnibus. Scott also has a picture book being published, `Not Like Georgie’, from Walker Books, which will be launched in late October. At Monday’s meeting I showed a series of book covers from around the world and talked about their different styles, and about the process through which covers evolve.
For a fortnight Scott has been running a story-writing competition for all ages, where the challenge is to write a story using many or all of the 132 most common words in the English language. Entries closed Friday, and there were plenty of them, giving Scott a lot of homework during the next week.

Wednesday, Chloe, Maeve and Sabrina, all in Grade 5, held a Talent Quest. A huge audience attended. I dropped in with a family who want their daughters to come here, and we stayed for a few minutes. After we left one of our visitors said `You know what was amazing about that? There was such a lovely atmosphere, and everyone was so well-behaved, and yet there were no teachers – they were doing it all themselves.’ It did remind me of how much we already take for granted about Candlebark, after less than three years.
Claire was away Monday, attending a session for teachers, run by the Australian Ballet, observing the Australian Ballet company in class, watching a French ballet master in action, and in conversation afterwards learning new ways of sequencing a class, as well as more injury prevention techniques. On the Friday before that, just over a week ago, Kathryn and Wendy went to an all-day workshop at Box Hill, on the subject of positive interventions with children who present challenging behaviours. Run by Tan Curtis, a Queenslander with a Master’s in Behavioural Management and a Master’s in Counselling, the emphasis was on developing preventative strategies rather than reactive strategies.
The night before that was the Grade 3/4 sleepover, a lovely event, which featured exclusively-Candlebark games such as Bunk-house Breakout and Hostages, as well as the more familiar Sardines. I read them the first chapter of Wind in the Willows before they went to bed and was impressed at their intelligent appreciation of it.
Going back another day, Wednesday saw a visit from the School Nursing Service, at our invitation, so we can take advantage of their skills in assessing children for all manner of issues, from hearing difficulties to dental problems. Meanwhile the older kids were all at the Melbourne Writers’ Festival, for a variety of talks and workshops. The previous day, architect Paul Haar was here for the day, and gave a wonderful presentation of plans for the new buildings. Particularly impressive was the way in which he had incorporated our students’ suggestions into his designs, and was able to show us the direct links between, say, Simon’s drawings or Maddie’s model, and Paul’s implementation of those into the plans. He then worked with Basil and the students for the rest of the day, on issues of colour, design, and furnishings, along with some of our supportive and creative parents. It was great to see so many of the parents who have helped us attend that presentation.
The Saturday prior to that – and I’ve now gone back two weeks, in case you’re losing count – was the Tournament of Minds final at Bendigo. Wendy, Roz and Basil all went to this. Wendy and Basil had offered to judge some of the sections as well. Our two teams, supported by a great turn-out of enthusiastic parents, performed magnificently. There are so many weeks – months – of training and preparation that go into this, but it is richly worthwhile, in terms of what it teaches about teamwork, flexibility, ingenuity, creativity, and language. Each term has to perform a prepared piece, on which they work with minimal adult intervention, and they have to make all the props for it. The performance must run ten minutes. The teams also have to perform a spontaneous challenge on the day. For all this to work, a huge amount of coaching and training is necessary, and Wendy and Roz have spent many hours of free time (including sleepovers) to make it all happen so successfully. Our teams had many – what I will euphemistically call – learning experiences but they came through triumphantly, with wonderful performances.
The night before that was the Trivial Pursuit night, and thanks to all who supported that. I was in Sydney, but evidently it was a barrel of laughs, and the questions, compiled by the Year 9’s were well-received. It sounds like the sort of thing we should do every year.

The week before that was Maths Week, when we had an amazing variety of Maths activities for students to choose from…
And so it goes on. Tomorrow Basil and Roz are taking 22 of our best chess players to Castlemaine for an inter-school competition. Wednesday of course is the Fete, one of my favourite days of the year. Kids have been hard at work getting ready for it.
In the middle of all this we continue with our central activity: the classroom education of children and young adults. We have a wonderful collection of bright, intelligent, sparky and engaging teachers, whose work ethic surpasses any staff I have ever seen or worked with.

So, that’s my snapshot of what we’ve been upto lately!