Year 10 student Rebecca Fala has been a student at St Cuthbert’s College in Auckland since New Entrants. However, she well remembers the excitement of Year 7 when the “old girls” – the existing students – were joined by a new intake of students from other primary schools.
“St Cuthbert’s is like a home away from home, so meeting all those new girls was quite nerve-racking at first,” recalls Rebecca. “But we quickly gained new friendships.”
Rebecca credits St Cuthbert’s Year 7 homeroom system for helping to establish those friendships. New girls are carefully buddied with “old girls” and they are placed together in a homeroom.
The homeroom teacher takes the class for English, social studies and health in an effort to really get to know the girls as they find their feet in Year 7.
“Having the same teacher for those three subjects is really good because they get to learn how you learn as a person – good if you’re quite a visual learner, for example,” says Rebecca.
Key point of difference
Principal Justine Mahon says St Cuthbert’s homeroom approach has been a key point of difference for many decades.
“At a school like St Cuthbert’s, which has a long and proud history, there is a great feeling of connection, and the girls who have been at St Cuthbert’s have a large part in helping integrate the new girls into this special culture.”
Justine says a huge amount of time is spent by teachers prior to the school year commencing to ensure the best buddy match possible for each of the incoming girls.
“They come in on Day 1; their desks are all labelled and they’re sitting beside their buddy, with their lockers nearby. They come into a room that feels really personal to them already, even though they haven’t yet been to this school.”
Year 7 homeroom dean Sue Elgar says the homeroom approach allows teachers to really get to know the girls and their families. The teachers work with students and parents to help balance homework with family commitments and extracurricular activities.
“Sometimes girls come in and want to join everything you can do at St Cuthbert’s from the first year, because there are so many opportunities,” says Sue. “So we help them manage that with a three-year plan so they don’t over-commit. We work together really closely with their families and the girls so they can make the most of their time here and develop that increasing sense of independence.”
Pastoral care crucial to success
Justine says that Year 7 is a critical time for students’ physical and emotional development.
“It’s the beginning of early adolescence so they’re undergoing such major change. It’s really important that as they make the transition into this section of education, we take the time to make them feel special, that we take the stress out of it.”
Justine points to evidence that shows that transitions have to be very carefully handled.
“There is research to show that at this crucial stage of early adolescence you shouldn’t have too many transitions, too many entrances and exits. The girls come in and they feel integrated. They know that they’re going to be here for seven years – that is deeply settling for them, and actually better for them.”
Justine says that while St Cuthbert’s is well known for its academic success, it has always viewed pastoral care as incredibly important too.
“Girls can’t achieve unless they’re being nurtured and they’re happy – they can’t concentrate,” she says. “We know that when parents send their daughter to St Cuthbert’s, they want us to know who she is. They want us to actually enjoy getting to know what her strengths are. That focus continues all the way through.
“It’s that feeling of being connected to one another and feeling accepted that enables them to relax and learn.”