Fran Reddan is a woman with her eyes set squarely on the future of her students. It’s something she has focused on since starting as principal of Mentone Girls’ Grammar.
In her 12 years at the school, Fran has overseen and led new ways of thinking in the classroom and curriculum to ensure students, from early years to senior level, are prepared for the future workforce.
“It’s gone really quickly – there’s been a lot of change since I started,” Fran says from her office in the school’s quiet surrounds.
“It’s been a fantastic opportunity to take a school and grow Mentone Girls’ and build teams and work with the community to develop something that’s really contemporary in education.”
Ten years ago, Mentone Girls’ Grammar introduced its WAVES (Well-being, Achievement, positive Values, Enterprising nature and Success of women in our society) priorities for students – initiatives that led to student well-being and enterprise and entrepreneurship becoming key parts of the curriculum.
“WAVES provides the lens with which we make decisions for the school,” Fran says.
The school completed its Well-being Centre in 2014. It has a fitness gym, health centre and a space to meet a psychologist.
This month construction begins on stage two of the centre, which will have an eight-lane indoor pool, diving boards and a learn-to-swim pool, along with 12 outdoor multipurpose courts.
Last year, the school opened its Enterprise Academy, which aims to cater to the changing work environment its students will face in the future. The academy aims to develop students into global citizens who are culturally aware, flexible and entrepreneurial workers.
“When you think about it, the three-year-olds today will be graduating in the 2030s,” Fran says.
“They will need to be very savvy to go ahead into a workforce where there will be jobs that haven’t been created yet.”
She says Mentone Girls’ Grammar’s Enterprise Academy builds on work done in the classroom. It adds to a curriculum that teaches students about pitching business ideas, intellectual property and even market research. The girls are able to build interpersonal skills such as resilience and intelligent risk-taking while being mentored and encouraged by staff.
The Enterprise Academy also offers specialist programs for junior and senior students, Fran says.
“The junior enterprise involves students from years 2-5. Girls have to apply to be part of it,” she says.
“It’s a weekly lunchtime session and they have to articulate ‘what enterprise means to me’ and are selected into the program.”
Students who get involved create a community business or social enterprise and take on roles in marketing, finance, advertising and concept development.
“From year 6 up, as they start to move into adolescence, we start to look at really cool workshops we can do with them after school with our business partners,” Fran says.
“PricewaterhouseCoopers did a session on customer validation (market research for start-up businesses), asking the girls ‘what does that mean? What is that concept?’.
“It actually helps the businesses with focus group-style feedback.”
As part of the academy program, Mentone Girls’ Grammar offers Enterprise Awards where students and teachers can pitch innovative ideas.
Students put their ideas to a “shark tank” that includes Fran and community members as judges. Successful pitches get school funding to start their business, along with coaching and mentoring.
Teachers also pitch ideas for innovative learning. Some of these are adopted as part of the school curriculum.
“Teachers are working with outside partners and they’re learning about networking and taking risks,” Fran says.
“All of these learnings can be passed on to the students.”
The school also holds the Enterprise Cup, a competition between house teams. “That involves several rounds of teams of students undertaking a series of challenges in engineering, technology and pitching,” Fran says. “In the final round, they have to design a product that is practical and useful by using a chosen technology.”
“One of our winning groups designed a doormat that automatically rang the doorbell when a visitor arrived. It had a volume control and worked on mobile phones so as not to wake any sleeping babies.”
It’s this type of thinking that Fran hopes to encourage in all her students, to get them thinking how they can integrate curriculum studies into future careers.
The Enterprise Academy is in its early stages. Fran hopes it will grow and continue to give her students educations that will lead to rewarding careers.
“I see the academy as almost like its own start-up,” she says. “We are pioneering a prototype to lead our girls into successful careers of the future.”
My mother was a primary school teacher and she had a philosophy that still stays with me today, that the secret of success in education is to love the children.
3 things I have learned:
● Education needs to progress to stay relevant in a fast-changing world
● It’s true that we have a co-educational world, but it’s not a balanced world yet. Girls’ schools have a critical place in giving women the confidence to fully contribute to society.
● Schools can play an integral role in helping future generations of young people to thrive in the changing work environment and global economy.