Moving from a small country school to board at a new school in Sydney is an enormous step for a 12 year old. Throw into the mix the need to adjust to a whole new way of learning, the Dalton Plan, and one can only imagine how momentous the first year of high school is for Ascham’s Year 7 boarders. It is reassuring to know that countless years of experience have shown that Ascham’s Junior boarders adapt with ease, strongly supported by staff and each other.
Reflecting on their first year, Alex Ryan and Sophie Lane, now in Year 8, both use the word ‘challenging’ to describe their start at Ascham in Year 7. ‘It was challenging being away from home and getting used to new routines. The homework was a big step up,’ Sophie said.
Alex admits she had a Dalton Extra [allocated time on a Tuesday afternoon after School to finish uncompleted work], every week in Term 1 of Year 7 and in the terms following. But this year, she proudly shares, she has barely had any! Alex attributes this change to taking more responsibility for her work and using her Studies more effectively to ensure that her work is done on time. Using your time wisely is a key skill learnt by all of Ascham’s students. Sophie added, ‘To be productive, you can’t get distracted. I’ve learnt that you don’t always have to go to Studies with a friend. When I go to Studies by myself, I get a lot more work done. If I’m in a Study with someone, it can also help to sit one seat apart, as it reduces the opportunity to talk!’
Boarders’ Prep is a unique aspect of Boarding life. Prep is the time allocated, five evenings per week, for boarders to complete their homework and Assignments. Each Junior boarder attends at least two out of three one-hour Prep sessions per evening and, akin to the flexibility of Dalton Studies during the day, they get to choose which two they attend. Prep sessions are led by a current Ascham teacher or selected tutors, the majority of whom are recently graduated Old Girls, many being former boarders.
According to Sophie and Alex, this mix of teachers and young Old Girls is one of the best aspects of Prep, as the staff are available to answer questions and help with schoolwork. Just as with Studies during the School day, the distraction of friends nearby can interfere with effective use of one’s time. Alex and Sophie share that to make the most out of Prep, they sometimes listen to music so they can block out any chatter in the room. They do admit that friends can be useful in Prep too—sitting next to someone while doing your homework can be a quick way to help each other out with questions and troubleshoot!
By the Senior years, Ascham’s boarders are well versed in time management and effective study, and have a strong appreciation of the model that has developed learning habits over time. Olivia Taylor, a Year 11 boarder said: ‘The whole Prep system is so effective. It really develops your study habits. I love that you can get support from teachers and tutors who are available during the Prep sessions.’
With larger workloads in Senior years, students are given their own bedroom and are able to work independently in their room during Prep time. Amelia Deal, another Year 11 boarder, shared: ‘Even though we have our own room, we still have the same session times for Prep. By now we have established study habits that are well ingrained, such as sitting down to complete work immediately after dinner and not being distracted by our phones.’
Both Olivia and Amelia are strong advocates for Dalton. ‘I’m a big fan of Dalton,’ said Olivia. ‘I think the benefits are so clear to me after all these years. The independent learning skills we develop mean that we are taking responsibility for our own learning, not being “spoon-fed”. This will help us when we leave School.’
They both believe that one of the greatest advantages of being a boarder is that study is completed in a collaborative environment. Olivia added: ‘We motivate each other; if others are studying then you think you should be studying too. We are really invested in doing well.’
Ascham’s boarders are fortunate to have such strong support from each other, the care provided by staff and robust structures in place. The strong partnership between the Dalton Plan and Boarding gives students the opportunity to thrive and succeed, living and learning at Ascham.
Skye Barry | Ascham Old Girl (Edwards 1994)