Australian boarding schools offer an opportunity for kids from sparsely-populated rural areas to receive high quality education. They offer kids an amazing array of opportunities and facilities that wouldn’t be available to them at home. However, what we often don’t talk about is what boarders offer the rest of the school. What do these kids bring to the students from the city?
Boarders, by necessity, become very independent. They don’t have mum and dad around to schedule them and make sure they meet all their obligations. Boarders do that themselves. They also have to manage their own money, sort out their washing, regulate their diet and so much more. They help to create a culture of independence in the school. It’s hard to whine about forgetting your sports equipment when the boarder next to you washed, ironed and packed their own sports kit. They set the bar high.
Boarders are heavily involved in the school and all its activities. Of course they are…they live here. They tend to be the core of sporting groups in particular. Many of them have played a lot of sport in the country because that is a popular form of entertainment in many country towns. Not only do they bring their skill and talent to the field or court, they bring the expectation that everyone will pitch in and help with administration and duties. Because that is how sporting clubs in the country are managed, by the community.
SHARE THE COUNTRY STORY
It is very important for kids to grow up in environments where they are exposed to different people with different ways of life. Boarders are forced into this situation. However, they also provide that experience for city kids. Boarders tell the stories of their lives. They talk about life on the farm or in their far away places. They tell their stories of driving through paddocks and dealing with stock, shearing, riding their horses and not being able to get the internet all the time. This opens the eyes of city kids. Their pure ‘get it done’ attitude shows city kids what is possible. In a girls’ school like Santa Maria College, it is good for our city students to spend time with girls who have spent their lives in environments and activity that is not stereotypical.
SENSE OF FUN
Boarders are fun. They have outside voices and big laughs and they are looking for things to be fun. School is their life for months at a time and they decide they might as well enjoy it. They don’t wait until after school to have fun, they make their own entertainment at school and they bring that atmosphere to the rest of the school.
TOLERANCE AND PATIENCE
Boarders live with a bunch of other people in very close quarters. They don’t get to choose who those people are and those people are not family. You either get along or life is unbearable. This breeds, in boarders, tolerance and an acceptance of difference. They learn how to negotiate conflict and problem solve. Boarders must also be patient. Living in a community means that things don’t necessarily happen at the moment you want them to…meals for example. Sometimes you have to wait. The skills of tolerance and patience are also used in their dealings with the rest of the school community. Again, it creates a culture.
BRING THE COUNTRY TO THE CITY
In the country it is very normal for teenagers to be quite involved with people of all ages and backgrounds. In the city our kids tend to spend their time with other kids of the same age and people who are just like them. Country kids will be in sporting teams and clubs with adults, they will know everyone at the football club from Auskickers to the League team. They know the owners of all the shops and they say hello to everyone.
As a result of all this varied interaction, country kids tend to have a comfortable way with adults and kids of varying ages. They bring that easy nature and friendliness to school with them. You can see it in the way they deal with teachers and younger kids. It is contagious.
I’m sure day students wouldn’t mind me saying that boarders are special for teachers. There is always a little group of them in your class and their needs are a bit different. Their parents have made a leap of faith and sent their child to work with you. It raises the stakes.
I have always loved working with boarders. There is banter and laughs, but there are often stronger relationships too. They know they owe it to their parents to make the most of their opportunities, so they are quick to try hard and access help. It allows you to create bonds and they are always grateful for that time and connection. It gives teachers a great sense of purpose.
The very essence of a successful school is its sense of community. Intangibles like school spirit, loyalty and pride come from a core population who model and share that sense of community. Boarding communities are often that core population. Boarders sometimes refer to themselves as ‘rent a crowd’, because they are at every school event and function. And they are. They are completely immersed in school community and at the same time perpetuate it.
Santa Maria College Principal Ian Elder believes that boarding students bring a sense of levity and maturity that reflects their country communities and lifestyle. Their exposure to many adults and their smaller communities ensure they have always been given a lot of care but also a lot of responsibility. They have been seen and heard in a way that is unique to small communities. It breeds resilience and a quiet confidence that cuts through many potential teenage problems and traps.
Having been independent and resourceful for a number of years, as well as immersed in school culture, it should come as no surprise that boarders often emerge as leaders in school communities. Their demonstrated ability to problem solve, their tolerance and their advanced social skills make them ideal leaders. They also show team work born of years of helping one another with homework, doing chores together and community living.
This week is National Boarding Week. It’s nice to have the opportunity to celebrate the character, community and resilience of our boarders and all the great things that boarders contribute to city schools.
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Linda Stade has worked in various teaching and management roles in education for twenty-five years. She has worked in government and private schools, country and city, single sex and co-ed. Currently she is the Research Officer at Santa Maria College, Western Australia. She has a Facebook page here