Year 9 Songlines Experience
The Year 9 Experience is a pivotal moment of growth and development for all Loreto Normanhurst students. Traditionally, Year 9 travel to Cairns in Far North Queensland, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic and closed borders, that was not possible this year. While Queensland is picturesque, the deep learning and experiences that students have are not endemic to any one location. We worked hard to ensure the objectives that the Year 9 Experience is founded on were held true: developing faith through time in God’s creation; individual growth through challenge; holistic learning beyond a classroom setting; and developing relationships by being in community. This growth is firmly rooted in the Loreto Normanhurst Student Growth Model and FACE Curriculum; in developing the Year 9 Experience we seek to ready students for a dynamic world beyond school.
This year we launched the inaugural ‘Songlines’ Experience for Year 9, which sought to bring deep learning into “the backyard of Loreto,” as Year 9 student, Meg, called it. After consulting our local AECG (Aboriginal Education Consultative Group), Songlines was chosen as the name of the program as it fit so well with the Year 9 Experience motto, “Caring for Country, Walking Beside.” Songlines is the western name given to the Aboriginal songs and stories about the land and sacred sites that Aboriginal peoples tell as they move through country. In the words of Year 9 student Indianna, “Songlines tell you where you have been and where you are going.” While the motto is novel for students heading in to the experience, this deepens dramatically through their experiences.
‘Caring for Country, Walking Beside’ is something that we all need to do to create a better country. We need to care for our land the way the Aboriginal peoples do and we need to walk beside them to gain knowledge on how to do so in order to ensure Australia can thrive for years to come.
Josie, Year 9
Over the course of Songlines, students were exposed to a variety of cultural activities and physical challenges that they experienced in their allocated colour group. We started with a sunrise liturgy and Welcome to Country to set the tone. A number of speakers including Mr Stan Grant (ABC TV presenter), Dr Julia Baird (author of Phosphorescence) and Ms Tanya Hosch (AFL Director of Inclusion and Social Policy, South Australian of the Year) all inspired Year 9 to use their individual skills and privileged position in society to make positive change for the future of our nation. Cultural activities on country in Muogamarra Nature Reserve and Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park were coupled with tactile learning about local Aboriginal knowledge, cultures and language on site. Thinking about her Aboriginal cultural experiences, Josie from Year 9 said, “The people we met from these cultures were so welcoming and told us personal stories from their family which helped us to build knowledge … they want to create a united Australia.”
Students completed community service, helping local councils by doing bush regeneration or cleaning up beaches – one group hauled a massive 440kg of rubbish from the Hawkesbury River. Physically, students were challenged; they raced each other on mountain bikes and literally (and sometimes figuratively) paddled up stream while canoeing. There were early starts and late finishes, including stargazing around a campfire with an Aboriginal elder and movie nights to bond. Josie S said, “Most of the activities on Songlines were physically challenging whilst exciting at the same time. There were lots of activities that helped to connect to the land like canoeing and bushwalks, but also activities where we go to know each other.” Check out the Songlines Facebook page to revisit some of the daily highlights for each group.
[The Songlines Experience] allows girls to build resilience through challenges and obstacles.
Meg, Year 9
Getting to know yourself and build connections with others is a core element of the Year 9 Experience. Some students experienced particular clarity: “I learnt that joy does not find you – you have to make a conscious effort to find the joy in everything you do.” (Indianna, Year 9) Loreto Normanhurst values the experience because of these learnings that happen beyond what a normal classroom experience can provide.
There have been particular obstacles in organising the Year 9 Experience this year with the necessary restrictions due to the public health situation, but this disruption also meant that we needed to radically reconsider what the Year 9 Experience looked like, and as a result I am really pleased with the changes we were able to implement to create Songlines.
I would like to thank the many areas of the School involved that made Songlines a reality. Importantly I would also like to thank the teachers who accompanied students, as they facilitated student growth and learning so enthusiastically. A special thank you goes to the Group Leaders, Dr Alison Franks (Blue), Miss Jess Willis (Green), Mrs Jo Hallinan (Yellow), Miss Jess Henman (Orange) and Mr Sam Napper (Red). The rich local learning and positive initial feedback suggest that there is scope to embed Songlines, or aspects of it, into the curriculum in the future.
Mr Victor McGee