… from the newsletter notes of Head Teacher John Boyce
When Garin College opened in 2002 the Board, the staff and I knew that our first five years would be devoted to creating our culture.
What did that mean?
Part 1: Developing holistic education
First, it was about creating a real Catholic community. The problem we faced was that there had not been a specific Catholic community for a big group of young adults since Redwood College closed in 1981, so no-one coming to the new school knew quite what to expect. I knew that it would take a whole generation (year 9s of 2002 graduating after five years) for that understanding to grow from a cutting into a firmly-rooted tree.
So in these years we concentrated on becoming an holistic school. Catholic schools are more than certificate-generating institutions. Catholic schools pride themselves on working with parents to form the whole of each person: not just the intellect – but also the physical, the emotional, relationship, values, attitudes, and spiritual sides of each student. As St Paul told the people of Corinth:
God’s various gifts are handed out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit … Each person is given something to do that shows who God is: everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits. All kinds of things are handed out by the Spirit, and to all kinds of people! The variety is wonderful.
This verse has two great messages: we all have spectacular gifts – and – when we use our personal gifts, we show off God.
Teachers new to Catholic schools (and in 2002 that was just about everyone!) had to re-train themselves to gain a new understanding of their role in the development of their students, and to provide experiences designed to make this holistic growth happen.
This is a huge job. Garin staff agree when they come to Garin that they will work hundreds of hours outside the classroom to help students become all the things they were created to be.
A young person develops all the many facets of their total personality, and the bank of skills and attitudes that will see them through life, by working alongside adults-in the classrooms (and we have small classes so teachers can get around each student more often)-but also outside the classroom: in tutorials, clubs, sports teams, choirs, productions, as well as supporting others in our community and world who need our backing. These hundreds of interactions gradually add colour and depth to the cartoon, and make us fully realised people.
It’s not just recognising a person’s gifts: it is about how we live our lives, how we relate to each other, and how we see the world (or “Creation” as we like to call it). Our standard is seen in the actions of Jesus-what are called “gospel values”. Jesus stood up for people who were looked down on or those unable to help themselves. He acted with love in everything he did. He was just. He fought hypocrisy. We see clear examples of compassion, hospitality, justice (especially for those who cannot demand it for themselves), dignity, community, commitment, and inclusiveness.
Our first priority was to build a community with alternative values, and a new way of looking at the worth of each created individual and our role in the world.
Parents in those early days commented on the difference in the second year-but it took time to develop a culture that didn’t rely on the teachers for reinforcement. These days our students and parents stand up for the Garin culture and tell us if they don’t see it.
Part 2: Our academic focus
Our focus on the whole person is now part of who we are. We all understand that, and believe in it.
Over the next three years we will take the next step. Over the next three years instead of spreading our focus across all aspects of our holistic curriculum, we will maintain what we have-but concentrate more on the intellectual development of our students.
We are a school-and we need to make sure we check and develop our systems to support academic success for each student. That is not a one-size-fits-all goal. Each student has their own pathway in life, and their own personal learning is needed to move to the next level. Our goal is to make sure each student and family knows exactly what the student needs, is aware of the pathway to their goal, and gets the support he or she needs to get where they need to be.
For some, that is a scholarship, for others NCEA level 1: for some work experience, and others the minimum qualification needed to pick up an apprenticeship. But for everyone there is academic or practical learning to be done-and proof of learning to be earned.
We are a decile 8 school. Already we are well above the national average passrate for decile 8 schools in NCEA. Our teachers are not satisfied with that because they see students who could be aiming for higher goals, others who take too long to get where they need to be, and some who give up and settle for easy options.
That is our focus for the next three years.
We are developing tools to involve parents. You are involved in setting the pathway when you fill in the goal-setting sheet that accompanies this newsletter. We are setting up learning blogs for each student to help you keep in touch with their pathway and progress along it. We are hoping to be reporting on progress fortnightly by next term.
Parents know what they want from their partnership with us. As Paul told the Galatians:
But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard-things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.