A Joeys country connection
Posted on November 9, 2020
Boarding at Joeys is often the tonic a boy needs to ramp up his focus on academic goals. It has certainly been the case with Jack Lennon, a third generation Joeys boy from the cotton town of Wee Waa in northern NSW.
His mum, Kate, noticed the change almost immediately.
“He never seemed to be that interested in school work in primary school [St Joseph’s Wee Waa],” she says. “But when we’d go down to Joeys and visit him he’d want to study; I think he was worried coming from a smaller school in the country he’d be a bit behind. He has been really diligent with his work and applied himself.”
It is one of many encouraging signs Kate and husband Nick (1992) have observed since Jack became a boarder in 2019. They live on a 1800-hectare farm and were always keen for their children – three girls and Jack – to broaden their horizons with a city-based education.
Nick’s ties to the college – he can trace his Joeys lineage back to the 1940s – meant Jack was destined to wear a cerise and blue blazer. He has many fond memories of his time at Hunter Hill, but it’s the abiding sense of community he cherishes most. “I still feel it’s there,” he says. “Joeys really appreciates the country boys and the country experience. I think if people live in Sydney, they appreciate that their sons are going to have friends from the country. Jack often has his mates up here.”
All parents of boarders feel a pang of sadness when they first entrust their son to College. It is a life-changing moment – a rite of passage experienced by thousands of boys over the past 139 years. The Lennons, a 551km drive away, needed to be sure Jack would be comfortable and want for nothing in his new surrounds.
The Joeys family support network is renowned for the assistance it gives to new boarders. Because of his association with the college, Nick had mates and relatives with sons at Joeys he could call upon if Jack was struggling, but it was the kindness of strangers that really took the Lennons by surprise.
“We have lots of friends in Sydney who have boys there and they were saying they were willing to help if we need it,” Nick says. “But there were also people we didn’t know. You’d get emails from parents on the committee offering to help because they know we’re not that near.”
Kate felt reassured. “John Won from the parent committee sent us a beautiful email saying if you need anything I’m close by, we can sort it out for you. Lots of friends would say to us that they’d seen Jack and he’s loving it. Someone even said he had three wet towels in his dorm – make him clean up his area! (Laughs) It was quite comforting.”
What also helped Jack’s transition from primary school boy to Joeys student was that for the first time in his life he was in an environment with so many boys of his own age. “Being here in Wee Waa with three sisters he was now enjoying being among a group of boys.” Nick says. Kate agrees: “It’s boy heaven. He came from a school of 100 kids and I think there were five boys in his class. To then be in a boys school and surrounded by mates is great.”
Covid has presented teachers, students and families with many challenges. Jack and his family could have felt isolated and forgotten during lockdown but Joeys’ teachers made a special effort to engage with him. Kate was impressed by how approachable they were. “Jack was having issues with internet access and his French teacher contacted me and sent a sound USB by mail so he could do his exam on audio file. They went above and beyond so he could get his assessment done correctly. There made checks on him and I often heard Jack having Zoom meetings individually with his teachers.”
In fact, Covid had unintended benefits for the Lennon family. On a farm there are always chores to be done and things to do. With all the children at home mucking in – and occasionally squabbling! – there was a special feeling of togetherness. Kate says it was like summer holidays; Nick says it was “awesome having all the kids around”.
For Jack, it was fun times. After working remotely on his studies, he could tear around the paddock on his motor bike or go shooting. He’d also began to develop an interest in the operation of the farm, which pleased his Dad. “He’s getting to an age where he can actually help me. He’s learning how to operate the machinery and is a great asset around the farm.”
The attitude of teachers and the pastoral care shown by the college, both before and after the coronavirus, has made a favourable impression on Nick and Kate.
“I wasn’t able to do parent teacher interview last year because I was going away,” Kate says. “So I emailed and heard back from all of the teachers that afternoon and had a five-minute phone call with them. It was very easy. No problems.”
They feel Joeys is building Jack into a young man of character and integrity.
“We have absolute confidence that Jack’s welfare is of most importance to the College,” Nick says. “Take the Sunday activities. It’s great the kids aren’t just going out there somewhere in Sydney. The boarding staff will take them to the footy, Balmoral or Paddington Markets. Or [boarding assistant] Jim Lloyd will organise their Sunday rugby. It’s great the way they look after them and try and make their experience a positive one.”
Nick has enjoyed watching Jake enthusiastically embrace the same traditions he embraced more than three decades ago. Re-visiting college to see his son has been a bonus. The distinctive smell of the “ref” hasn’t changed, he jokes, nor has “carrot canyon”. He fondly remembers the year eight English teacher who would occasionally let him and his classmates watch Fawlty Towers.
But he is also impressed by the changes in teaching and the positive impact it is having on Jake’s attitude to school work. “He is so ambitious with his learning now. I went down to Joeys to see him and even though I was staying in a hotel, he brought books out with him when he saw me. I couldn’t believe it. It’s great.”
Nick is a big fan of the dormitory system. In Jack’s case, he thinks it played an invaluable role in curing homesickness and helping him make friends quickly.
“I think in year seven if he’d been put in his own room it may have been a lonely experience. I think Jack loves going up to the dorm – whether he’s watching the footy or mucking around with mates. It’s a bit of a family environment.”
He is also happy that sport is still a central pillar of every Joeys boy’s education. He rejects any idea that it could distract from study. Instead he says it encourages lads to organise their lives properly.
“Some of my favourite memories at Joeys were playing rugby or watching the firsts. If people say too much emphasis is put on rugby and it takes away from studies, I say there is time for both. The guys in the firsts were some of the smartest guys I went to school with and they did the best in the HSC as well.”
As we move into the final term of 2020, Nick and Kate are certain they made the right choice in sending Jack to board at Joeys.
“It’s a real surprise how much he has been applying himself and the marks he has been getting. He is making some good friends in Sydney, too,” Nick says.
“He is enjoying the city,” Kate adds. “I don’t think he realised the scope of it. He is walking down to ‘Circle K’ and doing his groceries at the shops.
“Joeys is a great community for the child and the whole family. We all feel a part of it.”