From the Principal
While the Christmas and January holiday period is inevitably a wonderful opportunity to take a break from the rigours of work and study, and devote some time to family and relaxation, I always look forward to the resumption of the school year. This is such an exciting period in the lives of students of all ages, and indeed their families, as they embark on the next stage of the educational journey. It was terrific to meet so many of the new Year 4 and Year 7 students and their parents last Wednesday morning, to share a cuppa and hear the various stories. The common theme is always ‘Hope’. If there’s one thing a Lasallian education at Malvern provides for all our students and families, it is hope. We all hope every student begins the year well, we hope each one recognises his special gifts and unique talents and hope he has the courage, resilience and motivation to take advantage of these opportunities.
I’d like to extend a special welcome to all our new families joining the De La Salle community for the first time. For the Year 4 and Year 7 parents who are new to the College, and also parents of the many boys joining us in Year 5 and 6 and from Year 8–12. A Lasallian school operates very much on the principle of community so we are thrilled that you have chosen De La for your son’s education. As was mentioned to those able to be present at the welcome morning tea on Wednesday, we emphasise a three-way partnership between students, staff and parents. It is critical there is open and regular communication and we encourage all parents to take advantage of the many opportunities to be involved with the College.
The House Liturgies coming up in the next few weeks for Year 10–12s, various information evenings, welcome drinks for parents and the Year 7 family barbecues on the final days of each camp are excellent opportunities to interact with staff and grasp the chance to be further involved in your son’s educational experiences. I am a firm believer in the bonds these interactions create between parents and the school. Families become well aware of our expectations and standards, they engage in conversations around issues and programs affecting their sons and together we are more likely to ensure each young man in our care reaches his potential.
While the focus is very much on making 2017 as successful as possible in all arenas of the College, I’d like to reflect briefly on Coolies 2016. I was fortunate enough to join the nineteen outgoing Year 12s and the three staff in December for the third week of work at Boys Town, Madurai in India and for the week’s tour following. Mr Michael Wilson, Ms Kerry Martin and Ms Rose Connolly did an outstanding job in guiding the Coolies group, organising the work teams and tasks, looking after the inevitable illnesses and ensuring the success of the trip. I was so impressed by the students’ contributions at our nightly reflections. Their capacity to give of themselves so unselfishly when peers at home were celebrating at Schoolies, the impact they had on the Indian students at Boys Town and their appreciation of the opportunity to support a community less fortunate than ours was both moving and rewarding.
As I write this week’s Duce article I am at Rawson Village in Gippsland on the Year 12 Retreat. The three day Retreat has proven a popular and supportive addition to the Year 12 program since its return in 2015. While run along Catholic and Lasallian lines, the Retreat is not overtly religious in its nature. It provides a terrific opportunity for the students to reflect, discuss and plan around spiritual, personal and social issues. Run in the four House groups, there are occasions when students both receive and provide affirmation, quiet times for guided reflection and journal writing. The Retreat culminates with a Year Level mass on the final day. The common theme is to assist the students in their transition from adolescence to manhood, providing openings to explore issues both relevant and engaging and encouraging openness in their discussions, questions and debates. For the second year we have invited Old Collegians from the previous year’s Year 12 group and this has once again been an outstanding success with the recent graduates offering an eighteen year-old’s perspective on the issues at hand. Their influence as positive role models and supporters of the Retreat experience cannot be underestimated and I am very grateful for their input. A wonderful way in which to continue their association with the College.
Last Friday I was very happy to be invited to the 2017, Year 12 Leaders Retreat and present to the group on the theme of Lasallian Leadership. I was so impressed, as I am each year, by the spirit, ambition, maturity and leadership capacity of our College, House, Lasallian and Arts Captains and Vice Captains. These are young men so keen to take advantage of the opportunities presented and repay the faith their peers and the College has placed in them as student leaders.
As 2017 gathers pace, and we are already at the end of the second week, I would like to stress the need for an academic focus. Beginning in the Primary school and certainly in Year 7, all students must adopt a serious, committed and organised approach to their studies. While we are proud of our open-entry enrolment and our mixed-ability classes, this should never be looked at as an excuse for lack of achievement. Every student in the school is expected to give of, and achieve, his personal best and his teachers will always support him in this endeavour. This year we are building in a range of structures and processes to monitor students’ progression and assist them to improve the standard, completion and timely submission of all work tasks.
Many of you will be well aware via the widespread media coverage that the next stage of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse began on Monday in Sydney. Our Brother Visitor, Br David Hawke has written to me and other Lasallian Principals and Board Chairs to advise the De La Salle Brothers are expected to be among a range of Catholic institutions participating in the three-week hearing.
An ABC news report from the weekend sums up the situation: “The opening address by the counsel assisting the royal commission, Gail Furness SC, is expected to include some grim statistics — an overview of the number of reports of child sexual abuse relating to the Catholic Church since 1950. The ABC has been told the data runs into hundreds of pages and includes details of the complaint, age of the victim, which diocese or religious order the offender came from and how claims were dealt with and whether compensation was paid.”
It is probable there will be a degree of negative publicity around the Church, Catholic education and by association, us in the coming days and weeks. In April last year when I wrote to the community in relation to the issue of institutional child abuse I stressed the following and the message is unchanged:
“It goes without saying that the abuse of any child, irrespective of how long ago it occurred, is criminal and abhorrent and goes against everything we, at De La Salle College Malvern, stand for. De La Salle College fully supports the important work of the Royal Commission and extends our support to those who have suffered abuse at any time in the College’s history. The failure to protect our students in the past must be the incentive to assist wherever we can in the healing process for the victims.”
The College has in place stringent policies and procedures that are backed by staff training and mandated government regulation, creating a child friendly, child safe learning environment for every student in our care. The College wants to reassure our families that our number one priority is the safety and wellbeing of all our students. Please do not hesitate to contact me should you be seeking further clarity around this issue.
I wish all students and families all the very best for a successful and enjoyable Term 1.
Mr Peter Houlihan