From the rector & principal of saint ignatius’ college riverview
From the rector & principal of saint ignatius’ college riverview
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Friday 17 November 2017 | Fr Ross Jones, SJ
Companions in Conversation
This week we have been sponsoring the annual Advanced Ignatian Teacher Programme at the College, with almost thirty teachers from Jesuit schools across Asia in attendance. We explored with them something of best practice from our Ignatian tradition. Here at the College we have a Companions Programme, running a number of years now, which we shared with our overseas colleagues. The programme aims to partner a teacher with an experienced mentor, a Companion...
Last week I was invited to speak to our keenest Year 9 Science classes on the topic of ‘Evolution, the Big Bang and Catholicism’. And they were not backward in popping the penetrating questions! It always interests me that the boys at first can think it strange that someone could have a background in science, yet still be a priest.
June 1st signalled the first day of winter, after what has been an unprecedented period of the most stunning autumn weather in Sydney. As if on script, the rain arrived and brought with it some blustery but refreshing weather that has greened the landscape of the school and feathered the lawns to soften the pitches for the winter codes. In keeping with Ignatian spirituality it is easy to ‘find God in all things’, in the sheer beauty of the natural world, in the inherent goodness of our young men, in the richness of the school community and an educational system which is aspirational and forward moving.
The very first Rugby clash between Riverview and Joeys is etched into the history books back in 1907 and the Alma records ‘The game was fast and fearless, and played from start to finish in admirable spirit.’ In a match that was a portent for the future, it ended in a draw – 11 All. This wonderful tradition was continued under magnificent autumn skies at Hunters Hill last Saturday in front of a crowd of approximately 6,000, and the descriptor of its historical counterpart was as relevant as the clash was 109 years ago. While the contest contained a fierce but fair competitiveness on the field, the pageantry and theatre of the war cries that have echoed for a century resonated with emotional impact off the field. Chants of RRIIIVEERRVIEW were countered with the Sub Tuum; the latter synonymous with Marist schools throughout the world. It was one of those gala occasions, like the perennial Gold Cup and Head of the River, where the entire community became involved and the spirit of both the GPS and the respective schools was on abundant display. It was a salient reminder of the rich tradition that exists in schools such as Riverview and Joeys along with the rallying cry of the community to produce such a wonderful contest and a memorable spectacle. Congratulations to all, the boys on the field who got over the line after a titanic struggle, and, the many who supported the occasion.
The freshness of the holidays has already been folded into the routines of classes and study. There is a palpable sense of purpose about the school and this is obvious in the intensity with which the boys are approaching their assessment regimes, which loom large over the weeks ahead. While some of the exciting initiatives in STEM continue to evolve across the Regis campus, the boys in Year 12 are processing their End of Semester Examination results and what that means for future consolidation of core course principles and priorities. Term 2 is characterised by little down time and at the end of the second week it is clear there is much to be accomplished over the coming weeks in preparation for examinations and major assessments.
In my Jesuit training, we had to take two years of philosophy. Alas, much of it I have forgotten, but I do remember learning about a Greek philosopher, Heraclitus. He believed that everything changed – the world was in a continuous state of flux. Heraclitus used to say, "You can’t step into the same river twice." That is to say, the river may still be there, it’s still made of water, it’s still this geographical feature between two banks, but it’s never quite the same river it was an instant ago. And we can live with that understanding.
While the holidays provided time for some welcomed rest and relaxation, they also afforded an opportunity for the boys to review and calibrate goals and priorities over the term ahead. More than simply change uniform from summer to winter and adjust to the organisational transition to another term, it is important in an Ignatian school where the inner impulse for the magis – that which speaks to a depthed and highly reflective approach to life, can be pursued with insight and zeal. It is a challenge that is issued to each and every boy as they return to take responsibility for their own learning to ensure that they achieve on a level fully commensurate with their God given potential and abilities, and in so doing, contribute to a culture and a community where aspiration takes primacy of place.
A veritable flurry of activity has rounded off a busy but very rewarding term. The final fortnight was bisected by Riverview in Bowral, which provided the opportunity to re-connect with generations of Old Boys and their families who have had long term associations with the College, as well as spend time with a number of current families who have boys in boarding. One of the more interesting revelations on the weekend was that one young man – Charles de Lauret (OR 1882) from Goulburn in the Southern Highlands, was one of the original 26 students in the first class at St Ignatius’ in 1880, and that tragically, he was the first student who died while on holidays on his family property at Wynella in 1882. One senior statesman, Dr John Roche (OR 1944) attended with his wife as part of the Roche dynasty whose enrolment over many generations spanned 1891 to 1996. As is always the case on such occasions, the sense of community was palpable and it was memorable and enriching to spend time with the boarding community and their families in their own regional context. Special thanks are extended to Christine Zimbulis who coordinates these functions and to Cathy Hobbs, the College archivist, whose meticulous work enables Riverview to draw on its rich past.
St Ignatius maintained that one of the greatest sins is ingratitude. This is rather surprising in light of the litany of evils in the world but on both a theological level and in everyday life the followers of Ignatius were taught to value, appreciate and thank both God and those around them for the daily blessings, graces and endowments that are often taken for granted. On Tuesday evening I, along with a number of other teachers, accepted an invitation to attend a dinner that was held to thank those who assisted a graduate from Riverview in 2015 for the support that he was given over his two years of senior secondary school as a boarder. This young man came to the College as a high achieving student who wanted to excel in his HSC, a young man who challenged himself by being the first hybrid Advanced Pathways student who undertook an extra undergraduate course in Philosophy while completing Year 12 at a high level in 2015. And, he did both, securing a High Distinction for his undergraduate study and securing an Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank (ATAR) score in the top 1% of New South Wales, and by virtue of interstate conversion, the top 1% of the nation. As if that is not impressive enough, this young man has secured entry to the London School of Economics into one of the most competitive and acclaimed university programs in the world. This dinner was not about celebrating success but rather it was about expressing gratitude; sincere, genuine and heartfelt thanks to the teachers who supported this young adult in his personal quest for the magis – going deeper, more expansively into the opportunities that were before him to secure the best outcomes. As teachers and administrators we were humbled by the gesture, and, we were and remain humbled by a profession where we have the fortune to provide life opportunity for young people. We, like our young graduate, are deeply grateful.
We are reminded in Ecclesiastes that ‘to everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven’. Perhaps the relevance of that maxim is no more applicable than at the present time as we move into the Easter story; the theology of the passion, the crucifixion of Christ and the resurrection that signals new life beyond death. This will be symbolically celebrated on Sunday with the eggs that have become synonymous with this time of the year, those that have the potential to subjugate the Christian significance during this period of renewal and growth through the challenges and rewards that the Lenten period provides. And, there will be some days of respite and rest over the break prior to the latter stages of the term, which will no doubt be filled with its own intensity and momentum. May it be a time where families can share in the gift of each other, the joy and hope of the season and a spirit of optimism, as we move ahead into the final days of the term.
Last Friday, two signature events that promote both the cause and the effect of scholarship at the College took pride of place. The first was the Laureate Assembly, which presented the graduates of 2015 who secured Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) scores in the top 10% of New South Wales, and by implication through interstate conversion, the top 10% in the nation. While all boys who worked hard and achieved success are to be commended, there should be no apology for aspiring towards and achieving academic excellence. The range of tertiary courses, the number of scholarships and the success of the boys in gaining access to some of the most competitive courses in Australia’s finest universities (not excluding American Ivy League universities) are, in a word, impressive. In all, 83 boys representing 37% of the graduating cohort achieved scores in excess of 90, with 11 boys being included at the rarefied top end – in the highest 1% of the nation. Xavier Eales, College Captain and Dux with an ATAR of 99.85, encouraged the boys to aim high and work hard to accord fully with a scholarly tradition of Jesuit education that spans the better part of five centuries, and in the process, capitalise on the God given opportunities presented to them in one of the finest schools of the nation. Some very proud parents joined the Assembly with their Laureate sons, before sharing a memorable morning tea in the Memorial Hall, where major school celebrations have been hosted for over a century.
Each year the College Leaders undertake a period of discernment to produce a theme which acts as a touchstone and a reference point to guide the various activities and events that are listed on the school calendar. In welcoming the boys back to 2016 College Captain, Bennett Walsh, spoke of his vision for the school, encouraging them to apply their many diverse talents, abilities and gifts for the greater good of the community to accord with the theme Strength in Unity. This theme was developed at the School Mass by Fr Jack McLain, which was held in the Ramsay Hall last Friday and attended by all staff and students. Such an occasion recognises the faith tradition of Riverview and speaks very directly to the Catholic teaching and Ignatian spirituality that permeates all areas of College life. A formal mass to begin the year has been part of this school’s history since its very foundation back in 1880, so the boys engage in Eucharistic liturgy that transcends time and place. What was particularly noticeable about the gathering was the sense of reverence and engagement the boys brought to the occasion, one that spoke to their capacity to associate with and respond to school expectations, be they in the classroom, in worship, in service or more broadly in the public domain. It was a palpable sign that the message of both Strength and Unity had been embraced on this occasion, one which resides at the centre of school life.
The Rector’s Address to the 2015 HSC Awardees at the Laureate Assembly Today
The first handbook on how to administer a Jesuit school was begun not long after we opened our early colleges from the mid-1500s. It included details about awarding prizes for place-getters in different subjects at annual assemblies. Here was an early encouragement to recognise academic excellence. Jesuit schools have always pursued and encouraged excellence. In those days, excellence was also sought in communication. Eloquentia perfecta it was referred to – “flawless eloquence”. At that same time, there was an acknowledged and unparalleled excellence in drama and theatre.
Welcome back to another school year, one that holds so many opportunities for growth and development for each and every young man. We particularly welcome the 255 new boys and 175 new families, the majority of whom join the Regis campus in Year 5 and the Senior campus in Year 7. These are exciting times for the young men as they enter the College and settle into the culture at St Ignatius, one that will see them experience exponential growth over the coming years. It is not without significance that these boys and their contemporaries, will graduate in 2023 and 2021, respectively, and in the process traverse the great divide from boy to man. At the other end of the spectrum, the young men who are entering Year 12 will increasingly look back over recent years with the profound insights that are the corollary of life experience when viewed through an Ignatian lens of reflection and discernment. How quickly those years are passing for our seniors, as surely as those will be for the boys who take up their enrolment at Riverview in these seminal weeks. To all members of the College community, I extend my very best wishes for all that lies ahead in 2016.
The events of 2015 came to a crescendo in the Ramsay Hall this morning with Speech Day formalities, which facilitated the perennial distribution of prizes and acknowledgement of those boys whose performance in a variety of fields has been particularly meritorious. Julian McMahon (OR 81), who among many local and international honours was recently awarded Victorian Australian of the Year for his work in human rights law, flew up from Melbourne specifically to deliver the Occasional Address. Always compelling and insightful, Julian encouraged the boys to reflect deeply and respond with integrity to the school motto – Qantum potes, tantum aude (Whatever you can do, so much dare to do). He encouraged them to pursue truth in their personal lives and in their studies, and, to respond to the great Ignatian ideal of making the world a better place. In the case of the latter, Julian encouraged the boys to seek out and support the lonely, this disadvantaged and the marginalised. If the riveting looks of the boys was any indication, Julian’s message and its impact was both immediate and profound. I extend a sincere statement of thanks to Julian for taking the time to be with the boys and give them the benefit of his wisdom and insights.
After the ardours, the rewards, the low points and the highlights of the last four weeks, the Year 9 Challenge comes to completion today. That it has had its ‘challenges’ is abundantly clear, from drenching rain in the early weeks to the highest November temperature in a decade in the latter stages (which among other things, forced the evacuation of the Mentors program!!), with all of the corollaries in between. But, it is over and the boys remain the beneficiaries of the experience, largely through the development of pietas – that forging of character that will enable these young men to see the difficulties and the diversity of their world and respond accordingly. At the middle stages of adolescence, they still have much to forge, but, the imprint of this experience is strong and will remain part of their reflection over the weeks ahead, and, decisive in their formation as they progress into the middle and senior secondary years. Special thanks are extended to the coordinator of the program, Mr Adrian Byrne, to the teachers, parents and the supporters who assisted (at times cajoled!!) the boys across the line, and of course to the boys who participated with open hearts and open minds; the comrades in arms who helped each other across some of the most difficult sections of the program.
Schools like Riverview have the rare yet distinctive capacity to present magic moments at unscripted times, one of which surfaced in the yard on Friday at lunch time and captivated hundreds of boys. It was through the agency of ‘gorilla busking’, musical entertainment provided by two senior students – Zac Roddy and George Goodfellow, which aimed to raise funds for Colegio Santo Inacio de Loiola in Kasait, a Jesuit school in Timor Leste. On a day when the sun shone brightly the boys gathered round in a carnival atmosphere, not only appreciating the musicianship, but expressing felicitous applause for the staff and students who approached the busker’s guitar case and threw in their dollars. It was a unique celebration of community, music, fun and philanthropy, which yielded some very appreciable gains: $565 in just 30 minutes!! These funds will be added to the thousands of dollars that are sent from five Jesuit schools across Australia each year to a project in one of the most impoverished nations in South East Asia, funds that have progressively built a school for over 300 children over the last three years who would otherwise not have access to education. And, the work goes on as construction begins on a teacher training institution contiguous to the school, which will take the best graduates and place them in undergraduate teaching degrees in order to redress the educational lacuna in East Timor. The importance of this project cannot be underestimated, but, it was the spirit of goodwill, the generous commitment and a vibrant sense of community that erupted in the grounds that combined to produce a poignant reminder of how wonderful it is to be in schools and to work with young people.
Although only in the early stages of the term, much by way of planning has been entered into for 2016, all consistent with the second year of the Strategic Directions 2015-2016 Document that was released early in the year after considerable discernment and consultation. Taking the form of School Goals for the coming year, these are designed to build upon the restructure of the pastoral care system, strengthen teaching and learning via the use of measurement data, increase accountabilities through asset management and risk management, while at the same time, maintain and develop the distinctive Ignatian charism that lies at the heartland of the educational program. Some new initiatives are also being introduced, including:
In the world of ancient Rome, there were only two temples to have theatres – those dedicated to the gods Venus and Bacchus. The early Christian community, naturally, saw these gods as patrons of lust and drunkenness. Not a good starting point for any Christians assessing the value of theatre in human culture! Indeed, the Council of Carthage in 398 AD decreed that those who attended a theatrical performance instead of Mass would be excommunicated and actors would be forbidden receiving the sacraments.
However attitudes softened a little over the centuries and the richness of Catholic liturgies fostered the evolution of pious performances and morality plays. By the time Jesuit schools were emerging in Renaissance times, drama and the stage were included as central pedagogical experiences. Naturally, this raised some eyebrows. The Jesuits in the schools had already been the subjects of some suspicion in that they enthusiastically taught “pagan” authors in the curriculum, alongside the scriptures and more catholic texts. But, it was argued in this Renaissance era, the Greek and Roman classics firstly taught the classical languages well, and then cultivated an eloquentia perfecta (flawless eloquence). At the same time, these classics of literature, poetry, plays and histories explored the great ideas of virtue, the triumph of good over evil, wrestling with moral choices, extolling heroic and generous lives. Reflections, if you like, of the great themes and values presented in the scriptures. So we embraced drama.
Over the course of a busy week the boys in the SEIP Program headed off to Teen Camp at Cobbitty for their annual residential camp with the girls from Danebank and PLC Croydon, and what a wonderful time was had by all. Students from each school encountered a range of activities that saw them rise to the occasion, particularly some of the more challenging tasks such as rock climbing, bush walking, horse riding, archery and canoeing. Each day was bookended with exercises and physical fitness to begin and ended with ‘crazy games’ in the evening, with fun being the key quotient of each activity. The boys also undertook classes in meditation and relaxation, aimed to capitalise on the sunshine the gracious surrounds of the rural setting. Special thanks are extended to the staff of Teen Camp and the wonderful teachers in the SEIP unit who provided unstinting support across three days and two nights, enabling the boys to have such a memorable time.
There has been considerable discussion this week about the interpretation made by Dr Christina Ho, from the University of Technology of Sydney, of the My School website data. In exploring the ethnic mix of schools, she last year suggested that there were Caucasian families refraining from sending their children to government selective high schools because of the high proportion of students there from non-Anglo students. This was a large claim to make from the data then.
This week Dr Ho comented on the low proportion of students with a language background other than English in schools on the lower North Shore compared with the State average. She lauds the benefits of a rich cultural mix in a school population. I agree with her entirely on this point. My time as Principal at Loyola College Mount Druitt underscored that particular value absolutely. But there seemed to be an implicit suggestion that a school like ours (which was named in her report) has either a deliberate policy of excluding the students of other backgrounds, or is not interested in responding to the challenge. Once again, she is drawing large conclusions from the data available.
This week the Chapel resonated with music and song with our young men displaying their wide-ranging talents in the Chapel Concert. For more than an hour we enjoyed a smörgåsbord of delights. From the earliest days of our Colleges and missions, music has always found such a place.
Welcome back!! It is my hope and prayer that families return to school with a healthy spirit of reflective discernment in the aftermath of the break, and are poised to confront the rigours of the term ahead. With the space that holidays have afforded it is worth appraising the way that the first half of the year has unfolded, and, what that means for the next ten weeks of teaching and learning. It is, by any standards, a busy schedule – between the timing of the Trial HSC Examinations in just 15 teaching days, an intense GPS sporting calendar, the Art and TAS Exhibitions in Week 6, all of which will culminate in the senior secondary with Valete and Graduation in just under nine weeks time. Rather than be pulled like centripetal force into the momentum of these events, it is prudent to approach the intensity of the schedule with measured purpose and system in order to emerge with optimum opportunity and efficacy.
A busy term has been rounded off with a flurry of events over the final week. Intensive work has been undertaken behind the scenes to ensure that reporting schedules are being honoured, with the final touches being applied throughout the week. Year 7, 8 and 10 reports were distributed on Wednesday, Year 5 and 6 reports today and Year 9 reports will be forwarded on Monday. I encourage you to look closely at the progress that has been registered across the semester to ensure that optimum opportunity is being pursued and realised through the educational program, and that where weaknesses are identified, they will be the object of redress through strategic, systematic and intensive efforts over the coming term.
In the aftermath of examinations, the boys in Year 10 are pursuing a Project Based Learning (PBL) initiative – a concept that is being explored in contemporary learning environments in schools and universities across the world. Launched by Fr Jeremy Clarke SJ, who was involved in PBL learning when teaching at Boston University in Massachusetts, the project is asking the boys to select, research, analyse, interpret and synthesise information using a process of heuristic, collaborative, and exploratory learning.
One could be forgiven for thinking that the latter stages of Term 2 regress to an ordinariness of daily life between classwork, examinations, sport and other co-curricular activities. Not so: from the pageantry that was revealed at Joeys last Saturday that re-enacted a tradition reaching back into the 19th Century, to the panoply of events that cascaded in quick succession across a busy week inside and outside of the classroom, it is a time to appreciate the enormous depth and vitality of the educational program at Riverview.
NAPLAN testing was conducted at the College throughout the week, with the boys in Year 5, 7 and 9 undertaking national assessments in literacy and numeracy, respectively. In all, approximately four hours of tests were conducted in Language Conventions, Writing, Reading and Numeracy across three successive days so the boys responded to an intense assessment framework. While the College believes that the testing regime is important to establish school profiles against state and national profiles, it does not specifically teach to, or focus on the testing, as a formal and dedicated emphasis in the educational program. It was obvious that the boys approached the assessments in a serious and measured manner, the results of which will be analysed to inform key areas of improvement into the future.
The groove of Term 2 is well established as we come so rapidly to the end of the third week. Year 12 reports were distributed during the week and Year 11 reports to conclude the semester will follow in the next fortnight. Other year levels will be processed following End of Semester examinations as we move more deeply into the term. Notoriously shorter than the others, Term 2 has its own defining character with the fewest interruptions, the most intense consolidation of the learning program and the consummation of it with the End of Semester assessment regime. It is in this context that the boys are asked to make their own individual and committed response to their studies over the immediate weeks ahead.
On the eve of the centenary of the ANZAC Day commemoration, students from St Aloysius College and Saint Ignatius’ College gathered in the pristine surrounds of the Rose Garden to formally and symbolically honour the significance of the occasion. In front of a genealogical descendant of the Lone Pine tree, led by the echoing theatrics of the Drum Line and the clipped military precision of the Cadet Unit, the ceremony attested to the gravity and the dignity of the event that has captured the imagination of Australian cultural history. It was a decidedly school event, with students taking centre stage in reciting poetry, placing wreaths and witnessing a ceremony that honoured the Old Boys from both schools who lost lives across the tumultuous events of the ANZAC campaign and in other theatres of conflict since.
Study skills are featuring prominently at the present time at different levels across the College. As part of a new initiative to strengthen learning at the senior secondary level, Elevate Educate has been seconded to deliver a three part program to Year 12 students that begins early in the year, reaching a high point in the aftermath of Trial Examinations in Term 3. Key elements of the program will focus on study skills, revision techniques and examination preparation in a structured and focused manner.
One of the distinguishing features of Ignatian spirituality lies in the strength of community that is formed through a deep regard for hospitality and welcome. It is for this reason that one of the most enjoyable aspects of a new school year is meeting the boys and their families who join the College, the majority being in Year 5 and Year 7. As Principal, I have the pleasure of spending some time with the boys in selected year levels, learning about their hopes and dreams and how Riverview can assist in their realisation.
Although only two weeks of the year have elapsed, the College has settled quickly into its embracing rhythms. The boys who were a little overwhelmed in the early days are finding their way around the grounds and the classrooms, exuding an appreciable familiarity with the structures and routines of College life.
Despite the persistent rain, an air of excitement, anticipation and not a little apprehension pervaded the grounds on the first day of classes. Approximately 250 new boys arrived at the College, the majority beginning their journey at Saint Ignatius’ Riverview in Year 5 along with the boys who are entering secondary school in Year 7. All hands were on deck to ensure that the new boys were greeted by senior students and staff, in an effort to ensure that their uncertainties quickly dissipated as they were escorted to House areas and classrooms.
As the year reaches its crescendo, a range of events and activities are calendared that look back over all that has transpired across 2014, bringing a sense of closure to the educational program. Free To Be … More, was the theme of the Year 6 Reflection Day, which asked the boys to consider some important issues as part of their retrospection on a year that has provided so much by way of growth in preparation for the transition to secondary school. Freedominvited
With just seven teaching days remaining until Speech Day, the dusk of the year begins to loom large. Behind the scenes, teachers are finalising results and constructing reports in readiness for the distribution of end of semester reports early in December. There are generally few surprises in the end product, provided the boys have worked with care and purpose across the semester and have prepared well for the examinations.
Over the course of 2014, staff at the College have actively pursued peer observation programs and ‘instructional rounds’ in order to improve classroom practice via structured feedback. Part of a School Improvement Program, both of these activities have been pioneered in high performing educational jurisdictions throughout the world and are consistent with best practice in contemporary education.