Beginnings Down Under

For the next eleven weeks, I am in a primary school setting at Rolling Hills Primary School in Mooroolbark, Victoria in the wonderful country of Australia! Mooroolbark (pronounced Merle bahk) is a suburb of Melbourne (pronounced Melbin). I am lucky to work with several different teachers and professionals during my time here. My cooperating teacher is Llinos Poole, and my EAST supervisor is Nicki Wood.

After only three weeks, I can definitely say that I have had a great first impression, and I love it here Down Under!  The staff has been very welcoming and supportive, and the people are wonderful. The school culture at Rolling Hills is quite different from the school culture in elementary schools in America. Rolling Hills has three buildings: the Boorai building, which houses the Level 5/6 classes, educational support staff, Chinese, and chaplain (similar to a school counselor), the main building, which contains administrative offices, specialist classrooms, and classrooms for Foundations through Level 4, and the  the William Barack Centre, which houses after school care. Foundations is the equivalent to Kindergarten, and Level (or Year) is in reference to grade. So, instead of a student saying they are in fourth grade in Ms. Poole’s class, they say they are in 4P. It took me a few days to realize that each classroom was identified by the level being taught, and the teacher’s first letter of their last name!

The main entrance

The main entrance

Students spend A LOT of time outside! They are outside for recess following their snack time, as well as after lunch for lunch play (which is for an hour). During recess, the staff usually meets in the staff centre to have morning tea. They are big tea and coffee drinkers here! The first day of term, the staff was celebrating several birthdays that had taken place over Easter holiday, so there were several cakes out during morning tea. This is the norm! Each staff member has a “birthday buddy,” and they are to bring in a cake on their buddy’s birthday. They sing the Happy birthday song, followed by three rounds of “Hip Hip…Hooray!” Super fun. 🙂

Instead of students eating their lunches in a cafeteria, they actually eat their lunches in the classroom, and have ten minutes to do so before going outside for lunch play. They are able to bring lunch from home, or they can purchase it at the school canteen (on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays).

Note: Vegemite-Aussies love it! I have not tried it yet...

Canteen Menu! Note: Vegemite-Aussies love it! I have not tried it yet…

All students here (as well as in the majority of schools in Victoria, and Australia) are required to wear a school uniform. The school uniform is specific for each school, and at Rolling Hills, they have two different uniforms for different terms and seasons. Right now, the students are wearing their winter uniforms for Term 2 (the current term) and Term 3 (which is after I leave). This uniform consists of Navy track pants (sweat pants) /skirt, Red polo shirt with school logo, Navy, Red, or White Skivvy (long sleeved undershirt), a Red windcheater with school logo (warm jacket), a Navy fleece cardigan (jacket with buttons down the front), and Girls also have the option of wearing a blue, white, and red check pinafore. All students are required to wear broadrimmed or legionnaire (caped baseball cap) when they are outside to protect them from the Sun’s UV rays since the Sun is quite direct here, they are required to wear socks at all times, and their clothing must have their names on them as well. You would be amazed at how many times hats and jackets get misplaced or mixed up! Interestingly, students are allowed to take their shoes off and just wear their socks in the classroom, but bare feet or thongs (flip flop sandals) are not allowed. This is very different from America, where students are primarily expected to wear shoes at all times!

Back of the main entrance and a portion of the play area

Back of the main entrance and a portion of the play area

All of the classrooms follow the school policies, which helps create consistency across the board. These policies are the learning expectations for the classroom, which starts with the acronym of R.H.P.S: Responsibility, Honesty, Pride, and Support. The school also utilizes the TRIBES Agreements, which helps create an inclusive community. The TRIBES Agreements are displayed in every classroom and consist of:

  • Mutual Respect
  • Safety
  • Attentive Listening
  • Personal Best
  • Right to Participate (Right to Pass)
  • Appreciation

At the beginning of the school year, students from all levels are assigned to a TRIBE that is led by a teacher. Every few weeks, at the end of the day on Friday, students meet in their TRIBE to discuss collaborative skills, goal setting, achievements, and other developmental aspects in a safe environment. For example, during my first TRIBES meeting, we talked about worrying, and it was something that needed to be done since the students seemed to be a bit more stressed, and it gave them time to just let it off their chests and feel better once they had said it out loud (or wrote it down) as they chose to do so.

The assemblies at Rolling Hills establishes a great sense of pride in their school and in their country. They occur every two weeks, and at the beginning of each assembly, everyone sings the Australian National Anthem, and also the Rolling Hills school song. Each assembly has a different classroom hosting, and in the last assembly, I was officially introduced to the entire school! Parents and community members were also there, since they are encouraged to attend to hear all about what has been going on around the school!

Students in 5/6 also have the opportunity to participate in interschool sports. In comparison to American middle and high schools, students have practices during school hours. The competitions are also within the school day, as they occur every Friday during lunch time. Sports students can participate in are Soccer, Volleyball, Australian Football, and Netball.

The Boorai Building

The Boorai building

Something that is done at most primary schools at least in Victoria, is the Annual Music Production. This year, students from Level 3-6 are performing Hairspray, and the Foundations-2 students are participating in a junior concert, singing medleys that fit with the theme of Hairspray (ie the Beatles). On even years, students from all levels have a whole school concert. They spend most of Term 2 preparing for production, and their performance will be at the beginning of Term 3 (I am very disappointed that I am missing it!). Nonetheless, I am contributing as much as I can while I am here by helping out the Props Committee. This means, I get to go around to different op shops (thrift shops) and search for specific items!

Once a year, students get the unique opportunity to go to Camps with their level and their classroom teachers. These are usually one or two nights (overnight camps!) in length, and can be up to a full week for 5/6. The camps are wonderful opportunities to gain a sense of self achievement and experience in a non school setting while also gaining social skills, independence, and responsibility. This is a progressive program, so as students move through their years, their confidence in their abilities to be independent continues to build. Past camp activities included canoeing, outdoor climbing walls, horseriding, archery, and ropes courses among other fun and challenging ventures! Unfortunately, years 3 and 4 are going to Camp during the first week of Term 3, and none of the other years are going during Term 2. But, it is definitely something that is different from American school activities, and I think it is a great idea!


One thought on “Beginnings Down Under

  1. Steffani, I have always gotten the impression that Australian parent and educators do an excellent job of education in a holistic fashion. I so appreciate the intent to get children involved in outdoor activities – even if it is just an “extended” lunch period or better yet, the annual camp experiences. Also the focus on a collaborative (musical) production is so wonderful for building a sense of collaborative and collective “togetherness.” I look forward to hearing more! Thank you for the photos. 🙂

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