A Uniting Church coeducational independent day and boarding school on Kaurna Country, Adelaide, South Australia

Early Learning to Year 12

From the Principal - Edition 3 - 2022

‘Every cloud has a silver lining’ is an adage many of us have grown up with. Sometimes the silver lining is a bit less obvious and other times it is blatantly apparent.

On the weekend, in a rare cultural family outing, we went to the Fringe Festival. We visited the Garden of Unearthly Delights and took in a show. It was great to be able to do this and David Hughes, the comedian we were seeing, was pretty quick to point out how easy South Australians have had it through the pandemic. Despite the current regulations with which we are all burdened, he is actually right. We have had it pretty easy compared to Victoria. While we may reflect on this and agree with it, it doesn’t necessarily make it any easier to deal with the situation we have in front of us.

In the show and walking around the Garden, we kept our masks on. Given that at School we have to wear masks all the time in the presence of others, can’t have mass meetings and need to be appropriately spaced, it was more than a little surprising to see thousands of people without masks on, all within close proximity to each other. At the actual venue, most people had no mask on and this was not challenged. While you did need to show proof of vaccination to enter the Garden, the different rules applying to attendance at the Fringe are hard to reconcile against the restrictions being placed on our children. Clearly, the silver lining is that this event could take place and that our entertainment and hospitality industry is finally finding some security. The cloud is made up of the double standards being applied to schools.

As we entered the first week of co-curricular activities this year, we had schools withdrawing every team they had in sports due to students being ‘classroom contacts’ with students who had become infected. Our Boarding students continue to be impacted by COVID-19, disrupting face-to-face learning when cohorts have been identified as close contacts. Despite the Herculean efforts of our Boarding staff, particularly Director of Boarding Andrew Junge and Head of Girls’ Boarding Jane Edwards, the settling of students into Boarding was somewhat thrown into disarray with the very strict regulations placed around them.

As Principal of Westminster School, I wrote last week to the South Australian Premier on behalf of our community, urging him to deal with the epidemic that has been lurking like a ship-sinking iceberg, that is, the mental health of adolescents.

Westminster is very fortunate to have a Wellbeing team of two psychologists and two counsellors who all work closely with our students. Every staff member at Westminster plays a role in ensuring the wellbeing of our students. Heads of School, House Heads, teaching and corporate staff, tutors and the Wellbeing team combine forces in many ways to make this happen. This year, we have already increased the Wellbeing team’s hours and are in the process of doing it again. Most students do not have access to a Wellbeing team like ours and most schools do not have this level and depth of student support. Many of the mental health issues that youth face can be very harmful and become contagions if left unaddressed.

The link between student wellbeing and co-curricular activities is clear and direct. Participation in team sports, physical activity, social interaction, making music, dancing and acting together, all give our children opportunities to express themselves. It provides the chance for them to create close friendships, relationships with staff and release endorphins. We are very hopeful that over the coming weeks as we head to 1 April, we will see the introduction of significant changes in restrictions placed on schools. None of us enjoy double standards and adolescents are particularly averse to them. Let’s hope that there is a silver lining not too far away!

If you are interested in reading about Westminster’s advocacy in this area, the Principal’s letter to the Premier is available here.

Simon Shepherd