Learning from life experience at Methodist Ladies’ College

MLC’s director of education outdoors, Daniel Short. Photo: Scott McNaughton

MLC’s director of education outdoors, Daniel Short. Photo: Scott McNaughton

There are many rites of passage students take during their time at secondary school. At MLC, year 9 girls take a step in their journey to adulthood by spending a term at the school’s remote Marshmead campus.

It’s here, on the 114-hectare farm in East Gippsland’s Croajingolong National Park, that they learn about living sustainably and also about themselves.

This unique experience is something students at MLC have been offered for the 25 years – since the school opened its Marshmead campus in 1991.

MLC’s director of education outdoors, Daniel Short, says year 9 students spend eight weeks working and learning outside the conventional classroom.

They learn life skills through working on the farm and sharing a house with other students, away from the support of friends and family at home.

“Marshmead provides them an opportunity to disconnect from technology and from pressures that they may be facing in a normal day in their life in Melbourne,” Daniel says.

The Marshmead property is off the grid. Solar power and collected rainwater run the farm and student houses – students can then measure the production and consumption of power and water each day.

The lessons are used to encourage the girls to take this environmentally sustainable behaviour back to their lives in Melbourne.

Daniel says Marshmead not only teaches environmental sustainability, but sustainability on a personal and community level also.

“What we say at Marshmead is you need to have personal well-being, the well-being of the community that you are part of and the environment that you are in … because these are all keys to navigating life,” he says.

Great outdoors: Marshmead grassy plains challenge run. Photo: SUPPLIED

Great outdoors: Marshmead grassy plains challenge run. Photo: SUPPLIED

While many students relish the idea of living independently, there are challenges each of them face, including being away from home.

“It’s a challenge to move away from their friends and family for two months at a time,” Daniel says.

“The staff at Marshmead are trained to support students through homesickness so they’re well looked after.”

Girls also get the chance for a catch-up with their loved ones on the parent visiting weekend. Families come to Marshmead four weeks into the students’ two-month experience so they can reconnect and share their experience so far.

For some, it’s not just the disconnection from family that proves to be a challenge, but also from technology. At Marshmead the year 9s communicate by writing letters rather than text messages or emails to family.

There’s also the challenge of living in a shared house with six or seven other students.

“We explain to them the stages of group development and that there are challenges associated with this development,” Daniel says.

“Staff at Marshmead give the students strategies to deal with the challenges that inevitably arise, like whose turn it is to do the lunch dishes, or clean the toilet … all the normal type of challenges you’d have if you’ve ever shared a house.”

Daniel, who joined the staff at Marshmead in 2008 as a home group teacher, lived on the remote campus for seven years with his wife, who was also a staff member there.

They started a family while living at Marshmead and moved to Melbourne last year when Daniel took on his current role at MLC in Kew.

Although he no longer lives there, Daniel travels back to Marshmead twice a year to help out on parent visiting weekends.

“It’s really nice to go back after I spent such a significant period of time there, to be able to go back and see how the place and the program is evolving in a really nice way.

He also loves to see how the students have progressed inside and outside of Marshmead.

“The majority of the students find it an incredibly powerful experience.” Daniel says.

“It’s that life experience – the sense of independent achievement. It gives them a range of skills, confidence in their own ability and great memories of their time together.”

Outdoor learning

MLC year 9 students discuss their experience at the Marshmead remote campus.

(L-R) MLC students Jessica Shugg, Jess Robinson & Aadya Mishra. Photo: supplied

(L-R) MLC students Jessica Shugg, Jess Robinson & Aadya Mishra. Photo: supplied

Aadya Mishra

I loved all of the activities, which allowed our community to form a bond. Living in a house with six other girls, I learnt to be selfless and giving, to pull one’s weight and be kind.

I learnt in terms of criteria for having a great experience, you get out what you put in. Most of all, I learnt to appreciate all of the amazing opportunities that we are given.

Jess Robinson

My favourite experience was living independently (well, without adults always watching you). It was an eye-opening experience because I got to develop my independence.

The other highlight was working with animals. I don’t get much exposure to animals because I don’t have a pet, so it helped me to build my confidence around animals.

Jessica Shugg

My favourite part would be the sense of independence and the freedom to be yourself. The environment is very different to the one at MLC, things are a lot more laid-back, giving you the freedom to be yourself.

The most valuable lessons that I learnt would have to be how to generally take care of myself and be aware of others.

Methodist Ladies’ College





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