Project Connect has been a wonderful way for our younger Wenonians to learn what the School was like in the past and forge connection with older alumnae, who have been forced to isolate due to COVID-19.
Having good social connections is essential for all aspects of our health and wellbeing. COVID-19 has been particularly hard for some of the older Australians in our community, exacerbating the loneliness and other social ills that can hit elderly people hard. When our Year 2 students decided to write to some of our older alumnae to find out about their schooldays at Wenona, it helped them to have meaningful contact with the School community at a time when school reunions and get-togethers with old school friends have not been possible.
“During this strange time of COVID-19, with so many face-to-face events postponed or cancelled, it has been more important than ever to reach out in other ways to connect and check in with people,” says Director of Foundation and Community Engagement, Mrs Sonia Brennan. “When calling alumnae to check in with them this year, I heard so many interesting stories about their schooldays at Wenona and the lasting friendships they made here. It prompted me to think about how we could find a way of sharing these stories with our current students and in doing so, forge personal connections between our young people and our older alumnae. And so, Project Connect was born.”
Mrs Brennan reached out to Junior School and found out that as part of their PYP unit of inquiry, ‘How We Organise Ourselves’, Ms Peck’s Year 2 students had been exploring different education systems and types of schooling across the world. This included finding out what school was like in the past and what had changed over time. And what better way to find out what Wenona was like in times gone by than asking the people who were here.
Ms Peck’s Year 2 students were so excited to be given proper Wenona letterhead to write on. They were each allocated two alumnae and set about writing to their chosen people.
Kiran wrote to Mrs Bronwen Mitchell (Judd, 1957). She told her all about her favourite things at Wenona and her experience of lockdown. “It was hard learning from home because the app called Zoom kept freezing and it was very annoying and frustrating. I very much prefer to be at School with Ms Peck, my lovely teacher.”
Kiran also told Mrs Mitchell all about the new building at Wenona, The Athenaeum. “There is a pool and a practice pool… and the Year 12 students even have their very own special learning space.”
Kiran asked Mrs Mitchell what she liked about School, who her Principal was and what her favourite subject was and why.
Mrs Mitchell wrote back to Kiran, complimenting her on her neat handwriting and spelling. She wrote, “You will think I am as old as the dinosaurs when I tell you that I left the School in 1957. It was SO different to the School today, as you describe it – no swimming pool, no gymnasium, no technology rooms or special learning space. What we did have was two tennis courts. As soon as the bell rang, we would have to run our fastest to get on the court first as we all wanted to practise. We had an assembly hall. We had a top playground and a bottom playground. On the top playground, we had a tuckshop and the tuckshop wall was used to practise hitting tennis balls against. There was plenty of room on the top playground to practise our ball games for the sports day…The best thing about Wenona was how many friends I made. Can you imagine that after all these years, I still fly down to Sydney as often as possible and meet up with many of the girls that still live there. We all sing the Wenona song. Three cheers for old Wenona! Haven’t been able to do that this year, with COVID-19 stopping us from travelling.”
Audrey wrote to Mrs Nerida Mosley (Day, 1941). She said that her favourite thing to do at Wenona was inquiry work “because we learn lots of interesting facts” and that she enjoys “skipping, dance, gym and swimming” after school.
Mrs Mosley wrote back and said, “School life sounds very different from when I was at Wenona in the 1930’s… We lived in Mosman and I walked to Balmoral Beach each day to catch the tram from there to Wenona. The tram was very noisy and sometimes very cold in the winter. Each morning, we lined up in our House groups and marched into morning Assembly in front of Miss Ralston. I was in Palmer House. Miss Ralston was our Headmistress or Principal then. She had a little dog that went everywhere with her about the School. His name was Dougal. I’m sure it doesn’t happen now, but in my day the School Prefects would stand at the School gate to check our uniforms and make sure we did not have any holes in our gloves… It’s lovely that we Wenonians can share our experiences, no matter what our age.”
Lyla wrote to Mrs Moyen Towle (Packer, 1952). She explained that during lockdown, “we could eat together online and play games, but it wasn’t as fun as running in the playground.” She asked Mrs Towle if she enjoyed skipping at Wenona and if she had sport when she was at the School. Mrs Towle wrote back to Lyla explaining that she started at Wenona in Kindergarten before World War 2. “I was in Palmer House and preferred sport to studies… I played Netball and Tennis and swam for Palmer House, as well as at Inter-School Carnivals… I found skipping very good exercise.”
As a relational School, Wenona exists in a network of reciprocal relationships and in this radically rearranged world of ours, we are valuing our connections with each other more than ever. COVID-19 has helped to draw everyone together – our current students and alumnae – and helped to forge social bonds and a new awareness of how we belong to this very special community.