There is one binding responsibility that resides with parents and educators for which there are no exceptions or exemptions – child protection. We are blessed with the gifts of parenting and educating, respectively, and dually commit to the wholesome development and formation of young people entrusted to our care. This is a mighty responsibility. The proof of how well that is attended to is in the well-being of our children: in due proportion to the efforts we make along the way to proactively protect them from all manner of influences which abound beyond the confines of the home or the school gate. To that end, various initiatives have been launched to raise awareness among the boys about the need for their own protection and where to go when they are feeling threatened or unsafe. Over recent months the College has been intensively pursuing the accreditation requirements for the Australian Childhood Foundation (ACF), as part of the need for all Jesuit schools across Australia to ensure the integrity of their child safe practices and protocols. Among other things, this includes professional development of staff, curriculum modules at age specific year levels, together with student awareness and community knowledge of and response to, child protection.
As part of the education program, the Society of Jesus, the Colleges throughout Australia and the ACF are working together to review all elements of the educational program. It is a broad undertaking that incorporates the many prisms of school life, from co-curricular and service activities through to classroom experiences on a daily basis. And, it includes the students, whose voice in the process is in due proportion to the outcomes. Late last year a representative group of students from each of the schools front-loaded a forum to name safety issues and to provide advice about how best to protect young people from risk and harm. Among other things, this resulted in a program of education that is being adopted through the pastoral care framework and the House system at the College, one which will continue implementation over the years ahead. It forms a very specific part of the Strategic Directions 2020-2025 document which, following approvals from the College Board and Jesuit Education Australia, will be released to the school community over the weeks ahead.
Part of the child protection agenda is associated with what to avoid and what to reject in the heady business of growing up. This is particularly when one encounters social situations and behaviours that are at odds with the standards, expectations and conventions of one’s own community. It is also in the promotion of a social conscience and a moral compass that develops an understanding about what is right, what is not, and what practices best protect young people from risk and harm where informed decisions associated with well-being are made. Amid the confusing miasma of choice and temptation that confronts young people, decisions do need to be made. Technology, particularly social media, can either be an asset or a hindrance. While civic duty and global citizenship are subsumed in the educational program – those that find specific expression through the faith life and the social justice programs at the College – so is digital citizenship in a world of intrusive and often confusing and competing options. All are part of the complex universe young people live in and need to successfully navigate in order to remain safe. And in their own way, they are clarion calls to action for all parents and educators to be mindful of the minefield that can lead youth into poor choices and regrettable decisions.
Across another busy week a portent for the future was announced: With Infinite Arms. It is the student motto for 2021: a motif which has been the object of considerable discernment by the Student Leaders since the early days of term. Laden with metaphor, and fully in accord with a community of enormous reach that does so much to support each other, this mantra will no doubt find traction and application over the over year ahead. We have seen ample evidence of the strength of community over recent times, particularly in the support given to the Dummer and the Henry families during grief and loss. The arms of consolation and comfort have been wide and embracing, as has the faith life of the College which provides hope through a loving and caring God. And so, with infinite arms we embrace the future, one which has been less certain in recent times but one which will draw on the depth of the community to support each other and to support those who are most in need over the months ahead. I look forward to the leadership of the boys as they progressively take over the affairs of their school and to their motto becoming a lived reality in the daily life of the College.
This morning the Provincial of the Society of Jesus, Fr Brian McCoy, announced that the new Rector to replace Fr Gerry in 2021 is Fr Tom Renshaw SJ (OR1990). Fr Tom takes up his appointment after 30 years absence from his alma mater. Fr Tom is warmly welcomed and will join the Jesuit community over the summer break in readiness to take up his role to begin the new year. While this is exciting news, it is tinged with our loss of Fr Gerry, whose gentle and generous presence, wisdom and care around the College has been a wonderful asset during such a challenging year. Over the weeks ahead there will be ample opportunity to thank Fr Gerry for his significant inputs to all aspects of school life, particularly in the area of faith development, liturgy and spiritual guidance where his impact has been deeply felt.
Best wishes for the week ahead.