Recommencing Year 5 at Brisbane's St Rita's College has girls flourishing

Clayfield’s St Rita’s College has added Year 5 to its highly successful all-girls school. Principal Dale Morrow says the exciting expansion is about providing families with greater choice for their daughters.

In the traditional school structure of primary and secondary, the upper primary years can often seem somewhat forgotten. Kids are ready for the curiosity and challenges that high school offers, yet most primary facilities cannot realistically cater for. However, emotionally, they still need the shelter of a primary environment, as they take those tentative steps from childhood to teens.

Knowing how critical these middle years are to childhood development, many schools have gradually shifted their modelling to carefully blend Years 5 and 6 into the senior school environment — something that has happened already at many of Brisbane’s more prominent boys schools.

Now, that opportunity is also open to girls, with St Rita’s College recommencing tuition in Year 5 to its highly-respected all-girls secondary school.

“The reason we’re adding Year 5 is because we want to extend opportunities for young girls,” the College’s principal, Mrs Dale Morrow, says.

“A lot of the boys schools in Brisbane have had Years 5 and 6 for quite a while. It leaves many of our primary feeder schools with solely girls in upper primary. We feel it’s important our girls have the opportunity to get the most out of Years 5 and 6 too.”

Students at St Rita's College, Clayfield

What makes Years 5 and 6 so important?

From ages nine to 12, children go through significant change — both physically and emotionally. These are the years when kids find their interests; explore opportunities, find their passions and find themselves. They have a strong need for learning how to do things and demonstrate their knowledge. They draw on their logical thinking to solve problems and use verbal skills to resolve differences.

It’s also a time when kids become more social. They begin to test their emerging values and are increasingly able to see things from another point of view, becoming genuinely more interested in others and in the world around them.

How does shifting these years of critical development into the high school environment support that growth?

Mrs Morrow believes the high school environment offers girls opportunities for exploration and development that the typical primary school simply cannot provide.

“We are able to provide opportunities that are very hard to provide if you are a primary school,” Mrs Morrow says.

“Science labs, drama rooms, sports fields, and specialist teachers. We really see it as an opportunity to give girls a nurturing environment to experience much more — both educationally and wellbeing-wise.”

Mrs Morrow is certain that by Year 5 girls are more than ready for that next step.

“I can see already we’re stretching them. Just in the first Term, the things they’re getting involved in, the initiatives they’re taking and the care that’s been shown by the older girls with them — it’s really bringing them all on.”

In Term 2, St Rita’s Year 5 girls began the College’s STEAM program, with one lesson a week doing science experiments in the laboratory.

“Running your own experiments in a laboratory is vastly different from learning things from a book,” Mrs Morrow says. “Having that ability to draw on the secondary resources to support Year 5s where appropriate, I think will significantly increase their outcomes.”

Introducing primary to secondary

Mrs Morrow says how the primary years are introduced is critical to success.

“We’re lucky we have an area that is quite contained. Only the primary school students are there; we don’t have the older students walking through the area,” Mrs Morrow says.

“We can determine when the connection between the primary and senior students happens, and we can do it in a very thoughtful way. They go to the Pantry at particular times, they mix with the older students at particular times … All of that is very carefully thought out to ensure everything is age-appropriate for them.”

She says the staff at St Rita’s understand wellbeing and relationships as being fundamental to any learning occurring.

“We need to know our students, and we need to know them well.”

Improved outcomes across the whole school

The benefit of a gradual, gentler introduction to high school is also becoming evident throughout the school.

Mrs Morrow says for  these foundation girls, Year 7 will be less of a leap. They will reach Year 7 excited for the challenges ahead, feeling completely at home at the College.

“They will be ready to dive into a high school curriculum,” Mrs Morrow says.

For the older students, the addition of Year 5 has created opportunities for their own self-development.

“We feel there is a nice connection to be had with some of the older students, and them taking on responsibility for nurturing,” Mrs Morrow says. “We have a very strong kindness culture here at St Rita’s, where we look out for each other and support each other in the ‘every day’. This [the addition of Year 5] is another wellbeing opportunity to further grow within the senior girls.”

Naturally, St Rita’s strong Year 7 transition program remains and a significant intake at that year level occurs, too.

“Our Big Sister, Little Sister program between the Year 12s and the Year 7s is incredibly successful. The cornerstone of our transition plan is around the older students with the younger students. That remains in place for when the girls reach Year 7 — whether new to the school or coming through from our Years 5 and 6 program.”

A strong culture at St Rita’s

It’s this culture of community and action that Mrs Morrow believes makes the College so successful.

“The thing I’m most proud of is our students. They really respond to our motto of ‘action, not words’. They’re aware of their ability to make a difference in the world. They’re aware of justice and that the world’s not just about them. It’s about how we take our place in the world and make it a better place,” she says.

“Our House system, our pastoral system, everything is set up to ensure that that’s the bedrock of everything that we do.

“There is a culture of looking out for each other and seeing how we can contribute to the greater good.”

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Written by Kids on the Coast/Kids in the City

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