All my years working in education have been in the context of catholic, independent girls’ schools. Over these years I have remained committed to the education of girls in a Catholic context because I have seen its great impact on the lives of girls and communities and because I believe that there is still much to be done in and through the education of girls in single-sex settings. Personally, I had the gift and blessing to attend an all-girls school, a school which provided me with a context for my formative years that nurtured in me a love of learning and grew in my character a sense of self and self-worth.
Mary Ward’s deep belief that women in time to come would do much was based on the firm conviction of this truth: that women reflect the Glory of God and to deny this is to deny the full humanity of women everywhere. As they opened across Europe, Mary Ward’s schools quickly gained a strong reputation for excellence in girls’ education and we proudly follow this tradition today. Mary Ward and her companions insisted that in her schools all girls would study the subjects and disciplines required to engage in society in a manner equal to men. For example, all girls were taught Latin so that they could go on to study medicine and law at university. In the digitally “switched on” culture we now inhabit, the era of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, and with gender parity still a national and global challenge, we believe powerful girls’ education promoting full human growth and freedom continues to be of the utmost relevance.
I have been particularly aware of this context throughout my experiences this week and so wish to share with you some reflections.
Last Saturday the Association of Heads of Independent Girls’ Schools (AHIGS) held our annual Festival of Speech, hosted this year by Meriden School in Strathfield. I applaud the efforts and achievements of all our girls who took part in the Festival, finding their voice and expressing it through readings, speeches, impromptu responses, and responding to unseen texts on topical issues. The provocative Ralph Waldo Emerson quote that greeted us on the program for the day was: “speech is power; speech is to persuade, to convert, to compel.” All girls who participated on the day held true to this quote, taking part in all categories of the festival. Some topics and questions covered include the duty of journalists to tell the truth, the impact of globalisation on the rules of free speech, the relationship between free speech and human rights, ‘who needs democracy when you have data?’, ‘Take a Breath’ and ‘I need to ask a question’ as stimulus for public speaking, ‘Slip Sliding Away’ as stimulus for engaging with a current affairs issue, and readings from modern day speeches and sacred texts.
The individual entries were all very impressive and the collective voice of young women was most empowering. I left the Festival of Speech confident in the knowledge that the young women in our girls’ schools view the world with an eye of self-belief, with the courage to persist, and with inquiring minds that encourage them to question structures that disempower them from finding a voice and having a voice.
As I have mentioned previously to the community, I have taken the approach this year of listening to the community. This has been important to me in my first year of Principalship and for the school as we approach the end of our current strategic plan. Personally, and professionally, I have gained so much from the perspectives and insights which have been shared with me so far this year by students, staff, parents and ex-students. In order to gain greater insight into the experience of Loreto Normanhurst, students, members of the Leadership Team and I are currently involved in a Student Shadowing Project, led by our Director of Professional Learning, Mrs Carol Osborne. The findings of this project will assist us in our ongoing improvement and strategic planning.
On Tuesday I had the great joy of shadowing a student in Year 6. One distinct feature which struck me by the end of the day, aside from the energy of youth which I hadn’t quite accepted my years have left behind, was just how comfortable each girl was in her own skin and the strong sense of psychological safety that existed in the learning environment for her to be able to feel so. This feature of an all-girls environment is critical to enabling students to take risks and I witnessed this throughout the day as we moved through Spelling and English lessons, to Music, Maths and Chinese.
It was a long day for Year 6 on Tuesday as that evening the Primary School hosted its annual Evening of Eminence, the culmination of a research project through which each student has explored and inquired into the life of a woman of eminence and then presented it by way of riddle to the gathered audience who was asked at the conclusion of each riddle presentation: “Who am I?” The selections made by the girls were most interesting and I’m curious to find out more from them as to how they made their selections. We were in the company of eminent women whose lives saw them involved in sport, aeronautics, medicine, aviation, ballet and dance, writing and acting and so much more. By the end of the night there was no doubt in my mind that if she can see it, she can be it. Over 400 years ago, Mary Ward and her companions resisted, and indeed rejected, the direction by those in power to “stay within their own bounds”. On Tuesday night we heard of modern day women who likewise have done the same and provide ongoing inspiration to the girls and women of today.
Tomorrow we will host the Loreto Normanhurst Regatta, the first regatta of the Schoolgirls’ Rowing Season, at the Sydney International Regatta Centre in Penrith. Our rowers have been working very hard for the new season, supported by their parents and the Sport Department. We wish them well for our home regatta this weekend and hopefully many students and parents will be there on the day to support the Blue and Gold Normo crews.
What the experiences of this week – the Festival of Speech, my shadowing experience in the dynamic space of learning environments, the Evening of Eminence, the preparation for the Normo regatta – have highlighted to me, is that as a girls’ school in the tradition of Mary Ward here at Loreto Normanhurst, we enable girls to build self-confidence, alongside the knowledge and skills they need to reject and overcome gender stereotypes.
It is a big weekend for the Loreto Normanhurst community as we work towards our Spring Fair on Sunday. PAL have done a terrific job of organising the fair and I thank them most sincerely for all they have done in preparation for Sunday. It is the whole community that brings spirit to the fair and ensures that the hard work of the committee comes to fruition. If you can help for an hour or two on the day, I do urge you to please volunteer. See the link here. I look forward to seeing you, your family and friends at the Fair on Sunday.
On Monday Evening Bishop Anthony Randazzo will be installed as the fourth Bishop of the Diocese of Broken Bay. Mass will be celebrated at the Light of Christ Centre, Waitara, commencing at 6.45pm. I encourage all families who can attend to be part of this joyful celebration. If you will be in attendance, please note that limited parking will be available on the evening and so car-pooling or public transport is recommended. Waitara train station is a 500m walk from The Light of Christ Centre. I ask that any students attending do so in school uniform.
At this morning’s Communion Service we commemorated All Saints and All Souls, two Feast days celebrated by the Church today and tomorrow which remind us all of the great power of faith, hope and love which binds us with one another. For all those who have lost loved ones this year, I offer prayers of solidarity and love to you and your families.
God of love,
You gather a vast communion of saints to pray for the needs of our hearts and world.
We give thanks for all holy women and men who have gone before us in faith, hope and love.
May we be inspired by their example to love and serve you and all creation with fidelity and hope.
We pray for all those who have died, especially loved ones and family members who have died across the past year.
May they rest now in Your loving embrace and continue to pray for us in our need.
May all members of the Loreto Normanhurst community who mourn be consoled and comforted across these days.
God of love, hear out prayers this day and every day.
Ms Marina Ugonotti