It’s been an exciting time for Year 9 students at Melbourne Girls Grammar’s Merton Hall campus in South Yarra. In their first year as senior students, they’re also the first to benefit from a new approach to education.
Melbourne Girls Grammar’s new senior years program is a schooling model driven by a focus on well-being and a realistic approach to the skills and attributes young people need beyond school.
Deputy principal of program design and development Chris McNamara says the program has academic excellence, enterprise and well-being at its core. “It’s really a restructure of how we do schooling in the senior years,” he says. “Our Year 9 girls are our 2020 graduates, and we believe they must have a schooling experience that meets their post-school lives. They will be working and living well past the mid-point of the 21st century.”
The program allows students to take a more independent approach to learning. They work on individual schedules, on subjects of their choice at their own pace, and in a medium that suits them.
“We’ve actually said what we need to do is free up time here for the girls to make some choices about when’s the best time for them to work on what they want to,” he says.
The Year 9s have access to one-on-one support from academic, well-being and fitness coaches, who work with students on issues such as stress. There are workshops and group sessions to help students identify common problems.
“We move from mentoring in the middle years to a coaching culture in the senior years, fully engaging the girls with their capacity to develop agency, which is so critical to their future lives,” Chris says. “Coaching is really about helping the girls develop strategies where they can be more in control and be more autonomous with their learning – and that’s what we want for them.”
The school’s fitness coaches work through the school’s Fit for Life Program, encouraging senior students to adopt healthy habits and improve their physical well-being.
“Our proactive approach is vital to our girls becoming resilient young women who manage themselves well in future challenging environments,” he says. “We aim to make physical activity fun, a confident experience, and one that can be approached individually or in groups.”
There’s a similar approach to well-being.
“Our specialist well-being coaches [are] dedicated to knowing the girls and coaching them to have a repertoire of skills and strategies to self-care and self-manage,” Chris says. “We want students to have the understanding and skills to identify what they should do when their well-being is suffering.”
The school will also soon open its new Artemis Centre, which has been purpose-built to incorporate new elements of the senior years program.
“The building brings together spaces for the academic, the social and the physical,” Chris says.
“There are spaces for girls to work independently or collaboratively and there are spaces for girls just to socialise and be there together.” The building also has courts, a swimming pool and fitness hub.
Chris says girls and staff have been enthusiastic about the new program. There has also been valuable feedback for the school and teachers.
“They’ve been extraordinary,” he says. “They’ve adapted well to a blended experience of learning, moving away from solely being in a classroom, to taking it on themselves to do more of the thinking, make choices that reflect their actual learning needs, and benefiting from a more dynamic relationship with their teachers.”
He’s excited about the possibilities of the new program, which is a major change to the school experience – an educational approach little changed since the industrial revolution. “Our new senior years program encourages students to build the skills to be independent and enterprising learners and move confidently into the future,” Chris says.