And they’re back

Posted on July 16, 2020

Monday 25 May marked the first time since mid-March that boys from Year 7 to 12 came together at St Joseph’s College for face-to-face learning. 

Although the boys in Year 12, 7 and 11 started the procession of returning to the classrooms as early as Week 3, there is something wonderful about seeing all of the classrooms filled, and hearing the corridors and refs filled with the chatter of the boys. 

There have been many a catch up between the boys, who have obviously missed the interactions with one another, both in and between classes. Any Joe Boy, past and present, can attest to the importance of mateship and camaraderie at the College, and for many of the boys the simple pleasures of sharing a conversation throughout the day is a highlight of their Joeys experience. 

Year 10 boarders Bill English from Mudgee and Sam Wilson from Coonamble are thrilled to be back at the College, learning amongst friends. Bill mentions, “It’s great to be back amongst our mates, ‘cause it gets a bit lonely at home. We still texted our mates, but it is better to be here with them”.

Sam agrees with the importance of mateship at the College, especially during isolation at home. “When you’re away for so long, you can get a bit lonely. It’s been nice to get back, and good to hang out with them all again. There have been plenty of stories shared amongst the boys”. 

New SJC Director of Business Services, Mr Matt Easdown (1981) is cherishing the small things that are re-commencing around the College, “The other day I was in my office, and I could hear the sound of the Year 12s singing Sub Tuum in the College Chapel. It was so good to hear! It was enough to bring a tear to the eye”.

The return of students has meant a full-time return to classrooms for our teaching staff. As it has been for many of his colleagues, Deputy Headmaster Mr Mick Blake has found the continuation of teaching during COVID-19 an adjustment of historic proportions. 

“It is amazing the change that overcomes a school at the start of each term as the students come back. This term, for the first time ever, we began a term with learning but no students on site. What an incredibly surreal experience, while we are living history, for me it reaffirmed why I chose the vocation of teaching. Sometimes you don’t realise what you have until it’s gone, and the lack of energy and excitement without the boys around the corridors or in the classrooms brought a fresh realisation that as much as students need teachers, it is the students who keep us young, or at least young at heart, and we yearned for their laughter, boisterous nature and general good demeanour to return” says Mr Blake.  For all the joy of recommencing onsite operations and having the boys back through the Mark St gates, there are a number of preventative measures and changes that have been put in place to mitigate possible risks that come with life during and after COVID-19. For staff like Mr Blake, implementing these measures has been a learning experience in itself. 

“Slowly the College has got it’s soul back albeit in a different way. I certainly did not envisage at the beginning of the year I would be running information sessions with our boys about how to wash your hands most effectively and I am sure I didn’t know what an elbow sneeze was. But all has been essential so we can breathe life back into the College. Things we take for granted have been altered and tweaked to both ensure the boys reduce their chance of getting sick, but also in reducing their likelihood of being determined a close contact and quarantining for two weeks.

The main area that we have adapted has been the number of boys in the boarding facility, with only the non-metropolitan boarders returning, and protocols to reduce the number of boys who sit together in dining rooms.  For me, the dining rooms are one of the biggest challenges and changes in this time, I am not talking about the simple mechanics of how many boys that can be in a ref at any one time and who sits with who, but the challenge has been that as a Catholic community, we tend to break bread together and share a meal as a true representation of community. Now, with only two people spaced around a table designed for eight, it does not feel right, but we know that in time, this area of our school will also get its soul back, and I am sure we will all be a little more appreciative of the little things that we take for granted”.

One significant change that has been noticed by parents, teachers, and students themselves across the country is the attitude towards school and students learning by themselves. Although many of the boys have missed the interaction with their friends and teachers, a large number of boys have recognised the impact that routine, focus and additional assistance has on their own ability to learn. Year 8 day boy Thomas Miller from Mosman has learnt that there is more to school than just classes and exams, “It means much more than just going to class, as the College gives us the opportunity of a lifetime. Whether it is sport or care, they are all opportunities many will never receive.” This sentiment was shared by another day boy, Zavier Gursoy from Cammeray in Year 7, “Joeys is a place where I feel safe, as well as having fun with all of my mates and learning new things”. 

Director of Teaching and Learning, Mr Matt Bookallil, sees that the teachers not only at Joeys but across the state are eager to take advantage of this refreshing view towards education, and the motivation and enthusiasm students have towards their own personal approach to learning. Mr Bookallil mentions, “The upskilling of teachers on a range of online platforms has allowed for more targeted teaching, catering for the breadth of student needs, including introverts and extroverts and from highly structured to self-paced. These approaches have continued face-to-face”. 

The eagerness to return to the College, and to be back learning with teachers and friends, has been a surprise for a number of the boys at the College. Bill English is loving his own personal change of perspective towards his education and being at school, “Before the lockdown I would have said I would love to be back at home, but when I got home, all I wanted, was to be back here, in the classroom, learning with my mates”.