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Doing School Differently

For Ms Peck’s Year 2 students, it’s been fascinating to see how different communities around the globe do school, how education in Australia has changed over time, and how Wenona itself has changed too.

Just as the world is always evolving, so is the field of education. The face of schools and education in Australia is changing. The focus is no longer on self, survival and the immediate community, but has expanded to embrace global and universal spheres. Classrooms are changing too. Chalkboards have been replaced with whiteboards and iPads. Our students have moved from rote-learning, to creating and solving. And as a society, our learning no longer stops when we leave school; we are now lifelong learners.

For their latest PYP unit of inquiry into How We Organise Ourselves, Year 2 have been exploring the central idea: Education is organised in different ways around the world. As part of their research, they have been pursuing the following lines of inquiry: the function of education; forms of education around the world; and organising schools for the future.

To kickstart their inquiry, Ms Peck asked Year 2 to think about the difference between Wenona now and when it was first founded in 1886. It prompted the students to delve more deeply into Wenona's history and think about why changes have occurred over time. They also thought what changes the future might bring?

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Principal and Wenonian, Dr Scott joined Year 2 for a ‘Masked Zoom’ session, which was great fun. She spoke to them about her schooldays at Wenona. Although the students were momentarily distracted when they discovered it was International Marshmallow Day (thanks Mrs Collier!), they did a fantastic job of asking Dr Scott questions they’d prepared about Wenona’s past, present and future.

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Ms Peck said, “We’d been looking at historical photos of Wenona, which the students loved. We did a bit of 'See, Think, Wonder' exercise, which really sparked their curiosity. The main point of fascination was the fact that at one time, there were boys at Wenona, and that students don’t sit in rows anymore with the teacher standing at the front of the classroom. The students used the photos as a selection of primary sources to discover more about Wenona's past, from when the School first opened, all the way to the opening of The Athenaeum building last year. This prompted them to come up with a whole series of questions for Dr Scott.”

Camilla asked, “Will you let boys come to Wenona? My brother really wants to come!” Dr Scott replied, “No. We want to focus on raising girls as strong leaders to do what they want to do in life. That said, there are activities that Wenona girls do with boys from other schools, like sports and Cadets.”

Annabelle H asked, “When you were at Wenona, were there any buildings that are still here today?” Dr Scott replied, “Some buildings are the same, but there are some new ones too, like Woodstock where your classroom is based.”

Zoe asked, “Why did you build The Athenaeum?” Dr Scott replied, “We needed a new pool and we really wanted some new learning spaces for doing exciting things like Science experiments, robotics tasks, and flying drones.”

Lexie asked, “Why do the Year 12 students get a room to themselves?” Dr Scott said, “Well they’re so grown up that they need more space for their learning.”

Amelia F asked, “What was Wenona like in the past?” Dr Scott replied, “It was quite different. We had to wear grey gloves in the summer and winter. It was very strict around uniform. We even had to wear bloomers – big baggy pants, so nobody could see your underwear! The Headmistress was very strict. We had lots of the same subjects. And we had the same Houses, but of course, we didn’t have Hadley House and Jackson House, which are our two new Houses. We all worked hard, and we lived by the School motto: Ut Prosim, that I may serve.”

Leela asked, “Do you think our new pool will prepare our students for the Olympics in 2032?” Dr Scott replied, “Yes, Wenona has some current and past Olympians, including Hannah Buckling, who has just represented Australia in Water Polo at the Tokyo Olympics. Our new pool will also help people learn how to swim.”

Sophia asked, “Did any old buildings at Wenona give you vision for the new building, like The Athenaeum? Did they give you inspiration?” Dr Scott replied, “No. The inspiration for The Athenaeum came from buildings that aren't schools. We wanted to come at it from a different perspective, so we looked at how theme parks, hospitals, hotels and universities are built. We thought about what people like about these spaces? For example, schools in Japan have playgrounds on the roof, which means that students spend just as much time outside as they do indoors.”

Miranda asked, “Where will Wenona be in the future and why?” Dr Scott replied, “Physically, the School buildings will be in the same place, but the School community will be bigger. For example, students could be based anywhere in the world, but still be part of Wenona. The School will still be a community, but we won’t all be physically based in one place.”

Inés asked, “Why was the school first called Woodstock and why was it changed to Wenona?” Dr Scott replied, “I don’t have all the answers to that, but I do know that the name Wenona was in a poem about an Indian woman whose daughter was called Wenona. I don’t think there’s an official record that we know of. I’m not sure why the School was originally called Woodstock, but when the School was sold, they closed the doors as Woodstock and reopened as Wenona.”

Olivia asked, “What did the playground look like when you were at School?” Dr Scott replied, “It was very different. The playground was a lot of concrete. There were two tennis courts where the garden now is. There's wasn't a lot of grass or plants. Our current focus is to bring in more greenery and water features. Our next challenge is to turn the Woodstock playground into a nature playground, with rock pools, fish, greenery, natural trails etc.”

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As part of their inquiry, the students have also participated in Project Connect, writing to older members of the Wenona alumnae community to find out how Wenona has changed over the years. In their letters, students wrote about what it was like to be a student at Wenona in 2021 and asked the alumnae questions about their experience of being a student at Wenona in the past. We look forward to sharing some of their letters next term.

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After Dr Scott’s session, Head of Junior School, Ms Lind also spoke to the students via Zoom about being a student during the Wisdom era. As she described it, “The wisdom era is signified by a prevailing appreciation of the value of hindsight, insight and foresight, consistently employed in actions that serve the greater good.” Ms Lind asked the students to think about all the different elements that combine together to make a learning space and showed them lots of images of green schools and imaginative learning spaces around the world.

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Year 2 are now designing their own learning spaces for Wenona. As Ms Peck says, “We are challenging the idea that a class is a space with four walls.” So far, the students have thought about indoor and outdoor learning spaces, including virtual reality rooms and telescope rooms. Josie is even designing a Constellation Room.

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Watch this space!