Building something special

by Mike Isle

School can be daunting and even be frightening for year one students attending primary for the first time

However, some would argue that, later in life, the transition from primary to secondary school is even more confronting. Here the student abruptly falls from the top of the tree to the bottom of the heap — or at least perceives it that way.  The excitement of becoming a secondary school student only moderately compensates for the loss of status, the fear of not being accepted and even, in some cases, moving on from established friendships.

Fortunately for students in Selwyn, our local principals and their staff are aware of the issue and have together put in place some remarkable programmes to ease these transitions.

Steve Saville is the principal of Rolleston College. He has a pivotal role in ensuring the transition from primary to secondary school is as painless as possible.

Steve is making something of a transition himself. He is a highly experienced teacher, but a first-time principal; and the school he now heads is new and not yet at a full roll.

He sees that as an advantage. New schools such as his and Clearview Primary down the road are instigating many of their processes and programmes from scratch. More established schools in the area are seizing on accelerating rolls as the motivation and momentum for change.

Steve says “the cause” is helped by the strong working relationship the local principals have with each other.

“We have worked hard to make it a community of schools working in close concert so that primary school students get an early taste of what it is like to attend secondary school, and our college students get the opportunity to be teachers and mentors to younger students,” he said.

Steve Saville points to recent inter-school events, which saw literally hundreds of primary school students coming to his college to partake, with college students, in learning events as diverse as sport, the sciences and culture.

“It demystifies these disciplines and gives them the experience of the secondary school learning environment.

“It is also mutually beneficial, because it gives our students the opportunity to take a leadership role in mentoring younger students and — ultimately — implement the buddy system where each new entrant is given a senior student to help guide them through the transition.”

He stresses that the programmes he is talking about are not entirely driven by the principals.

“Yes, we (principals) meet often and share ideas; there is collaboration, and we do see our schools as a genuine, even unique, community. However, most of the initiatives I have talked about are instigated by staff and students.

“A lot of it comes from the students themselves and the perceived need. And when it comes to the question of the early years and making transitions as seamless as possible, nobody is more aware of the need than the students themselves.

“They have been there.”

Saville says the work of primary principals and teachers and the willingness of Rolleston College to open its doors and share its resources with the feeder primaries, is reflected in the calibre of this year’s year nine (first year of secondary school) intake.

“What I am noticing is that the year nines are coming here confident and with high esteem. College is not new for them. Most of them have been here in some capacity before. I don’t think going to college has any of the fear factor it may once have had.” Mr Saville sees the Rolleston school community he and the other principals are building as a reflection of the wider community. He talks about the “greenfield” opportunities for the new schools to develop programmes from scratch; for more established schools to evolve with their escalating roles and for a still small school community to interact and collaborate. Moreover, he also sees something else.

“There is an aspirational aspect to our wider community. There is a newness to it. A hope and, I believe, a confidence that we can build something special in the town.

“The idea of ‘new’ is not scary. We are willing to try something new. And that is the way I think our students, primary and secondary, see it too.

“And that is why we can build such a robust transition platform.

“We are simply building on the strength of our students.”