January 24, 2011

I thought I’d do again as I did last year, seeing I got away with it then, and plagiarise a kind of newsletter I sent to parents recently. It was a personal perspective on the year at Candlebark just concluded, followed by some comments on the school year about to begin. So I’ll reproduce some of it here, with a few explanations and asides included.
Each day at school has its own highlights, but the morning meetings with which we start the day are nearly always among them. One of my favourites in 2010 came from a couple of students. Rosie and Mikhaela’s performance of the Sunscreen Song included exquisite choreography and dancing: funny and beautiful at the same time. Another, very different, kind of meeting featured our Spanish teacher Zan on guitar, with other guitarists, and volunteer soloists, singing Paul Kelly’s “From Little Things, Big Things Grow” – that certainly stood out for me.
People are still talking about teacher Shaun Dennis’s famous autobiographical meeting, where he described his early life in New Zealand, and his musical journey. And art teacher Basil Eliades took a meeting where he gave an illustrated talk on his attainment of a martial arts black belt: the students and I were spellbound. Basil made us aware of the commitment and dedication his achievement had required, and he had the bruise on his forehead to prove it.
In 2010, we were much more involved in sport with other schools, including a very successful trip by the high school kids to Macedon Grammar. The primary schoolers participated in quite a lot of sports days, where Candlebark consistently performed at a surprisingly high level, given our numbers, in terms of both skills and, even more noticeably, teamwork.
Grade 4 student Laila had always shown promise as a cross-country runner: in 2010 she triumphantly confirmed that promised by finishing in the top 20 in the Victorian 1500 metres Championships.
In chess, we also batted well above our weight (I know that’s a mixed metaphor, but “boxed” sounds a bit aggressive). From more than 300 schools that participated in the 2010 Victorian chess championships, Candlebark was ranked 12th among secondary schools and 37th among primaries. Like Laila in cross country, grade 3 student Hunter emerged from the pack as truly outstanding, and is now ranked 4th in Victoria for his age. By mid-November he was on 981 points, just 19 short of achieving the rare title of “Junior Chessmaster”.
But often the most fun was the games and other stuff we made up for ourselves, including another season of European handball, and Tackle Frisbee on the top oval. I loved our chess evening, hosted by Basil, where parents and kids got to learn a bit, and to compete in different games. The fete was great again this year, a lovely balance of different stalls and activities, and well supported by the adult members of the school community, so that we were able to send a good cheque off to the Pakistan flood relief appeal. Budding entrepreneurs were encouraged by their success at our garage sale day: I picked up quite a few bargains myself. In 2010, a string ensemble was a wonderful addition to the music program, and it was lovely to see parents and teachers as well as students involved. Jorge Rodrigues joined our music staff to teach guitar, and quickly built up a good “book” of students.
Excitingly, the film Rory (Grade 4) has been making over a period of two years was released to the Candlebark public in 2010! `Cataclysm’ may have depicted a cataclysmic world in which zombies preyed on innocent passers-by, but the film’s reception was anything but cataclysmic. The crowd loved it, and asked for more. Rory got great support from his classmates in making ‘Cataclysm’, so as well as it being a terrific creative venture, it was also an outstanding exercise in collaborative work.
We had a couple of really memorable soirées and we finished the year with the epic performance of a musical called “H2O”. This was written by teacher Scott Hatcher and set to music by another teacher, Taran Carter. Their talents are awesome individually, and together, dazzling. And when those talents are combined with their huge commitment of time and energy, and supported by a dedicated team of staff members and the vivid and imaginative choreography of dance teacher Claire Rosenhain, the results have to be worth seeing. I’ve already mentioned the choreographic skills of year nine student Rosie Leverton, a bit flippantly, but it was a big thrill this year to see her continuing to build on foundations established in earlier years… her assistance with the 2010 production was again at an adult level – and to be corny for a moment, that is the kind of journey Candlebark is all about.
As well as the expensive and spectacular buildings that are mushrooming around the campus — of which, more later– we’re getting a great deal of use from a large home-made greenhouse that Bob, Matthew and Brent constructed. It’s a pleasure to go in there and see and smell the wonderful range of healthy plants that Brent and his gardening gang of students are tending so assiduously. Meanwhile however the trampolines are being torn apart by white cockatoos — they have apparently developed a taste for the blue foamy stuff contained within the pole-protectors. Not literally a taste, as they don’t eat the foam – they just shred it and leave it lying on the ground for humans to pick up.
Whilst shredding the foam, they also do a pretty good job of wrecking the safety nets. Honestly, some of these native creatures. They think they own the place.
Excursions in 2010 included another trip to Adelaide for WOMAD by the Year nine group, a day in Bendigo at the Art Gallery and Aquatics Centre for everyone, the screening of kids’ films at Kyneton from the Little Big Shots Film Festival, Waiting for Godot, with Ian McClelland and some other guy (but without Godot), which some students loved and other students slept through, Melbourne for the grade 5/6 kids, Canberra for the grade 6/7 kids, and Bright for four days for everyone from prep through grade 6. Grade 7 and eight went on a bike camp to the Grampians, Year nines also went to Apollo Bay for a horse riding camp, did a four-day hike from Trentham to school, went to Latrobe University for three days for a science program, and spent six weeks in China and Mongolia.
Candlebark kids also went to lots of concerts by groups like the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and Vertical Shades, had a Flash Mob dance experience at the closest of quarters, and had heaps of memorable sleepovers and camps. After bushfires a couple of years back, this year it was floods, with the grade twos being almost washed away early in the year at their camp on Black Range Road, and the whole school evacuated for an afternoon, just a few weeks before the end of term four.
Coming to visit us and/or talk to the students in 2010 were wonderful people like World War II RAAF bomber pilot Colin Griffin, now in his 90s, the Koehne string quartet from Vienna, Pete the Plumber with a range of poly pipes and other musical instruments, Martial Funk (a very energised blend of movement and music), journalist Catherine Deveny talking about her personal struggle – triumphantly resolved – with dyslexia, TV producer Margot McDonald (“Dead Gorgeous”), the always-welcome cheerful and friendly staff and students from Fitzroy Community School, a group of lovely high school kids and their teachers from Manor Lakes, and a terrific bunch of wwoofers, including Stefan (Germany), Holly, Guy (England), David and Elise (France).
We also for the first time had a week where visiting artists/tutors worked with our kids, in fields as diverse as drawing and printmaking, filmmaking, circus skills, pottery and dance/drama. But the two blokes teaching bush carpentry without the aid of power tools probably stole the show, and many an intrigued spectator enjoyed inspecting the stools, wooden spoons, and other creations from the Candlebark participants.
Younger children spent the Arts week exploring the world of dinosaurs and creating their own wonderful dinosaur kingdom in and around Cecilia cottage.
Another first was our participation in the RACV energy challenge, at Maryborough. Grades 5 and 6 went, and rather stole the show themselves, doing outrageously well for a school which had never entered before, and winning the presentation award.
The generosity of one of our parents made possible a particular highlight of 2010, the opportunity for many children to spend a day sailing in a training catamaran on Port Phillip Bay, and for Grade 8, an overnight sailing trip to Queenscliff.
The Trivial Pursuit event staged by the year nine parents and kids at Gisborne was one of the funniest nights I’ve had for years, and raised a heap of money for the China/Mongolia trip. Candlebark again hosted the Victorian Secondary Schools Orienteering Championships, and the year nine parents were to the fore in catering for that, as another fundraiser.
The 2010 Bush Dance was a ripper, despite wild weather: such a fun, family night, enhanced by a great traditional warming supper.
We teachers had lunch with the year nines in term four, as our time together approached its end. It was a great occasion, followed a few weeks later by the year nine farewell dinner, where parents and siblings and other family members gathered with us to hear from the students about their time at Candlebark, and their hopes for the future. They were articulate, engaging, thoughtful and above all honest, to a degree which further enhanced the respect in which they were held.
One small but significant contribution from the Year nines in 2010 was specifically from student Finn Onans, who designed and created a garden in front of the building we call the Manager’s Cottage (home of the school office, art room and computer room).
On a personal level, I was thrilled by the response of the school community to the movie “Tomorrow, When the War Began,” filmed from a book that I wrote. At short notice, we were given the opportunity to have a premiere for the school community in Melbourne. It was wonderful for me to watch the film whilst surrounded by such generous and supportive energy. And I will forever be grateful to the two actors, Denniz Akdeniz and Chris Pang, for coming along and talking about their roles, and answering questions.
And now we come to…
2011… such a numerically auspicious year. Although 1/1/11 and 11/1/11 are behind us, the excitement of 11/11/11 is still ahead. For us, it will mark the conclusion of a major building project. Already, two new classrooms that form an extension to Cecilia cottage have been in use for much of Term 4 2010. They are beautiful spaces, giving a lovely sense of airiness and light. But the extension to the classroom block has now been completed too, and is ready for the start of Term one this year. That gives us one more new classroom, which is furnished with a floor covering especially selected for dance classes, to reduce stress on feet, legs and bodies.
The two existing classrooms have been widened, and we have put in new folding doors to separate the three classrooms from each other. These doors have much superior soundproofing, and are a lot easier to open and close. The space as a whole now gives us a large open area where we will be able to stage concerts, soirees and plays, not necessarily as a venue for big events like “H2O” at the end of last year, but it does allow for lots of possibilities.
Further down the driveway, the new extended, improved, rehabilitated, refurbished, enlightened art room will also be open for business at the start of term one. As is characteristic of the work of our architect, Paul Haar, this too is a lovely space, with interesting shapes, and state-of-the-art environmentally sustainable features.
The new Library is being painted at the moment, and is nearly ready for the floor coverings. Waterproofing of the roof is almost finished, although frequently frustrated by rain, but once it is done, backfilling of soil can commence. Construction of the patio out the front, and landscaping of that area, is also proceeding, so although we may not be able to use the building from the first day of Term one, we should only have a matter of weeks to wait.
As soon as that is finished, we will swing into the last stage of our extensions, for which planning is now complete. This will involve widening the bunkhouse (the area where we’ve been teaching science and Spanish), and adding another classroom to the end of Allen cottage. As well, we’ll widen the amenities block a bit.
For 2011, we plan to use the three classrooms in Cecilia cottage for most of the Prep, Grade 1, and Grade 2 lessons. This will not only form a good base for the younger students, but will also enable us to achieve useful flexibility and mobility between classes for subjects like English and maths. Allen cottage will be the home of music, although there may be some interruption to its use while the extensions are being built. One of the spaces in the new library has been designed as a computer room, although all of the library is wired for technology, but at this stage we plan to keep the existing computer room as well, to give us two spaces we can use.
To further facilitate the efficiency and speed of our computer network, we are upgrading it to fibre optic cabling throughout the school. This work should also be completed by the start of Term one.
We also have an application before the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) for an increase in school numbers. We are contemplating that at some stage in the future we might like the school to span kindergarten to Year 12. I’d like to set things up so that such an expansion is possible. As part of our preparation for the VCAT hearing, we met recently with four officers from the CFA, the Country Fire Authority, for an on-site inspection of the school. The CFA seemed very happy with the quality of our resources, planning and management, but made some suggestions which we’ll be happy to adopt.
They were particularly excited by the library, and its potential for sheltering people should they be trapped on campus in the event of a fire. I thought their responses were a great validation of the skills and work of our architect, Paul Haar, in preparing a building that reaches extraordinary standards in its capacity to resist bushfire.
For 2011 however we once again have a full school, and a good deal of this is attributable to the way in which our parents talk about Candlebark in the wider community. I get a lot of feedback about comments made here, there and everywhere, and there’s no doubting the impact of them: a lot of enquiries and enrolments come directly from this.
In 2011 we will have at least one new student in every grade except Grades 1 and 9. I rather like the energy that comes from bringing a new kid into a class, and certainly we got some fantastic new enrolments in 2010.
The only changes to the teaching staff involve a couple of people wishing to work fewer days, which means we will have a couple of new part-time teachers in 2011. I’ve asked Joanne Croke to teach Art two days a week. Joanne is already well-known to the Candlebark staff and most of the kids, as she’s been here quite a few times to take classes. Her past includes a lot of travelling, including teaching experiences overseas, and, back in Australia, diverse jobs including work as a technical assistant at Elphingston Arts Foundry, a gig as a visiting lecturer at Phillip Institute Bundoora, and 15 years as a part-time instructor with Windarring Adult Training Support Services – an association for people with disabilities – at Kyneton.
Joanne has been a finalist in the Moet and Chandon National Touring Exhibition, and has exhibited in many group and one-woman shows in public and private galleries. One of her major commissions was for a group of freestanding sculptures at the Commonwealth Law Courts in Melbourne. She recently completed a mixed media mosaic in Hutton Street Kyneton, which was supported by Macedon Ranges Shire Council, and also contributed to the Black Saturday bushfire Mosaic at Kyneton Town Hall. Joanne’s professional experience is mostly in sculpture, mosaic, printmaking and painting, and her hobbies include sewing and soft furnishing.
We’ve also been fortunate enough to engage Lizanne Richards, to teach singing, Humanities and music. Some of you will know Lizanne’s group ‘Lady Grey’, and you may even have been lucky enough to get hold of her CD `Of Wifely Constitution’.
Lizanne spent part of her childhood on the edge of the Sahara desert in Niger, where her father was a missionary doctor in a remote hospital. She was home-schooled by her mother then joined her older siblings in Nigeria for boarding school at age six. This early life experience sparked Lizanne’s deep interest in the way people relate to their surroundings.
On returning to Melbourne suburbia and attending conventional schooling, Lizanne developed a desire for learning more practical life skills, which eventually led her to studying Outdoor Education and History at LaTrobe. Her degree was followed by a graduate diploma in education, and she has taught in London, Melbourne (including Fitzroy Community School), and at primary schools locally.
Growing up in a church meant that music was a large part of Lizanne’s life, and she had ample opportunity to perform and be part of concerts. Lizanne has passed AMEB grade 5 in both singing and musicianship theory, Grade 7 in violin, and Grade 8 in piano. Her interest in music has developed into the serious pursuit of singing and songwriting.
By adding Lizanne to our group of music teachers, we have made another significant addition to our wonderful range of people and instruments available. Candlebark kids can learn piano, cello, violin, guitar, clarinet, saxophone and composition, and now voice. Drums may also be available. As well, we can once again offer the very popular small-group-program, with Taran, whereby students in groups of three or four learn a different instrument each term, for a calendar year. It’s a sampler programme, at a cost of only $85 a term, which includes the loan of an instrument and the supply of music..
We are offering some new services and opportunities in 2011. Jess Liston is launching a natural horsemanship course, for selected students. Jess has done a lot of work already in preparation for it, including several days last year spent observing and assisting in a similar program at Geelong, and as well, an enormous amount of time these holidays sourcing horses and equipment. I heard from her last week when she was on her way to Bairnsdale, a five-hour drive, to look at two horses which she subsequently rejected as being below an acceptable standard.
Further to the natural horsemanship course, Candlebark parent Kay Ivanac and her colleague Sally gave an excellent presentation to the teaching staff at the end of last year, describing their three weeks in California recently, on a course in Equine Guided Education. This gave us further us insight to the value of bringing horses and young people together in these positive, powerful and structured ways. (In fact, people of any age – Kay and Sally plan to offer Equine Guided Education to the business world, to assist with staff development programs and staff training.)
New on the timetable in 2011 will be “book club”, a period a week where kids will gather in the library to talk about books, read, be exposed to new genres, and swap ideas. It’ll vary from class to class, but the concept comes from the way adult book clubs operate – and the satisfying experiences they prove to be for so many people. I’m expecting it to be another helpful way to promote literacy in the school, and to encourage lifetime reading habits.
Also this year, speech therapist Sally Armstrong will be available at Candlebark. In talking to Sally, and in listening to her very helpful and informative session with the staff at the end of 2010, I have come to realise that the profession of speech pathology these days covers a wider range of issues than Lionel Logue, the Australian bloke who worked with George V1 of England, could ever have envisaged. As Sally puts it, speech pathology offers “the opportunity to maximise our communicative abilities” so that people can speak, be heard, and communicate. It can embrace, for example, issues with motor problems which affect the actual production of speech, phonological disorders where children struggle to organise and use the sounds that they have in their inventories, auditory processing difficulties, expressive language delays, and language learning difficulties generally, including those that affect literacy.
During 2010 Woodend therapist Teresa Mallon worked with some children, adults and families at Candlebark to help with issues that were causing difficulties, or which had the potential to cause difficulties. Mother of three young sons, Teresa’s counselling skills and areas of interest include low self-esteem and depression, relationship issues, individual, group and couple therapy, and dream groups. Teresa will be available for consultation via the school in 2011, or can be contacted directly on 0417 864 556. I warmly recommend Teresa as someone who has had a very positive impact in a number of situations at school.
Finally I come to the saddest moment in the short history of our school. On April 20, 2010, Alessandro D’Angelo, a 17-year-old ex-student of Candlebark, known to one and all affectionately as Sandro, put an end to his own life. This was an event that devastated everybody. To think that a boy who was still finding his way in the world could become so lost is something that merits the name “tragedy”, in all its weight and gravity. The potential of Sandro, as limitless for him as it is for every human, can now not be realised, and we are left with memories of a quixotic, highly intelligent, big boy with a huge personality. The strength and dignity of his friends, from Candlebark and elsewhere, as they took him on their shoulders and carried him from the church at his funeral, made a profound impression on everyone I think, but what we would have given for them never to have been placed in that situation. What we would have given for them to be able to continue being his friends, instead of having to become his pallbearers.
On this sad note, I conclude my summary of 2010, with warmest wishes to all who read this,
John Marsden