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Sea Change for St Joseph’s School
October 23, 2017

Change is the word for St Joseph’s Catholic School in Narrabeen.

Nestled between the ocean and the lake, the primary school has a new Principal, an updated professional learning scheme for its teachers, and a brand new play area for Kindergarten kids. 

“There’s a little stage and a shopfront and a little boat,” said Virginia Outred, the new Principal. “The kids love it.”

It’s been designed for “play-based learning,” which allows children to learn social and emotional cues and explore risks in a safe setting.

The main playground has also had a revamp, with a new cubby house and brand new resources including dress ups, a car mat and building blocks. “At lunch time, they’ve got plenty of choices,” Virginia said.

Those kids who want a more quiet lunch hour can attend “lunch time club,” which has a different activity every day. “Computers one day, construction, song club, the library, and activity club,” explained Virginia.

It came about because St Joseph’s has two satellite classes from St Lucy’s School for Children with Disabilities.

Kids from St Lucy’s attend some classes in Kindergarten and Year 1, and sometimes become integrated into St Joseph’s by the time they reach Year Two. “They sometimes find being in the playground a bit intimidating, so we have that structured space for them,” Virginia explains. The space worked so well that they began a lunch time club which was open to all students.

This focus on the emotional wellbeing of the children is a core principle of the school, said Virginia. “A lot of the parents choose the school because it’s a smaller place and the kids are being nurtured.”

Virginia officially came on board in August after a few months as Acting Principal, six years as a Literacy Consultant for the Catholic Schools Diocese of Broken Bay and 32 years as a teacher and Assistant Principal at other schools.

Teaching reading and writing is a passion of Virginia’s, and she has presented to the national conference for the Australian Literacy Educators Association. One of the first changes she introduced at St Joseph’s was a new professional learning program.

“We’ve been engaging the teachers to make their own changes in the classroom,” said Virginia Outred, the new Principal. “We want the kids to be more engaged with their learning.”

The program is very collaborative, she said, and allows teachers and children to adapt to one another as literacy improves.

“We often teach teachers in front of students, model in the classrooms. It’s not just behind the scenes.”

The new literacy framework is called the Gradual Release of Responsibility Model, where kids receive explicit and guided teaching while they work towards being independent in reading and writing.

“It’s an ‘I do, we do, you do’ model,” Virginia said. “I model it, we do it together, and then you have a go by yourself now. In literacy, it all comes out of authentic reading and writing experiences.”

The literacy program is designed to complement the school’s long-running Cultures of Thinking principles, where teachers are taught to focus on collaboration and nurturing kids’ individual thought processes.