Tertiary experience stands primary students in good stead

Several primary schools from across the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle recently took part in the Children’s University program with the University of Newcastle.

Children’s University Newcastle is a charity program founded in the UK about 20 years ago and works with schools to encourage students to become lifelong learners.

“By the time a child turns 18, they will have spent just 9 per cent of their waking life in a classroom. Children’s University is about making the most of the remaining 91 per cent%,” says its website. 

This program offers students the opportunity to participate in extra-curricular activities both inside and outside of school and works with students to build self-confidence and resilience. It offers superior educational experiences for children aged between seven and 14 years and recognises their achievements through the award of formal certificates and graduations.

St Columba’s Primary School, Adamstown

Students from St Columba’s Primary School, Adamstown, have had a wonderful year of learning through the program, expanding their knowledge outside of the classroom and participating in many activities such as sports, music, drama, dance, online pursuits and much more.

St Columba’s conducted learning lunchtimes where members of staff shared their learning journeys, and the school offered learning afternoons where special guests from the community would visit.

Staff from Bunnings Kotara and Waratah taught the students how to build a train. Later in the term, Mrs Lee, an Airforce engineer and school parent, presented a lesson on aircraft engineering. Students learnt about the F35 jet and applied their new knowledge of the principles of aircraft engineering into designing and testing paper planes.

“Two highlights from the year were definitely our on-campus excursion at Newcastle University, and graduation night,” said Year 6 class teacher, Kate Buchanan Willis. “Our excursion to the university gave students a taste of some of the learning that happens there as well as exposing them to the variety of career choices available.

“Graduation night was a time to celebrate the commitment of our students to their personal learning journeys. They were able to celebrate with their friends and family and we are so proud as a school to acknowledge their achievements.”   

St Catherine’s Catholic College, Singleton

Twenty-three students from Years 5 to 8 from St Catherine’s Catholic College, Singleton were recognised for their efforts in gaining more than 30 hours of “outside the classroom” learning after graduating from Children’s University Newcastle.

Dressed in academic regalia, students processed onto the stage to receive their awards from University of Newcastle vice-chancellor Alex Zelinsky. Students were praised for the commitment they had displayed towards this program and their curiosity for learning.

Six St Catherine’s students — Jessica Borg, Charlotte Davey, Ryan Flissinger, Braith Jackson, Louise Ford and Jacob Merrick — also sang the national anthem to start the ceremony.

“This program aims to demystify university for students and parents alike and encourages families to seek activities for their children outside of school that suit their interests,” said English co-ordinator, Alana Partridge.

“Some students gained learning hours by attending local events and exhibition days, such as the SES day here in Singleton. Some gardened and harvested sunflower seeds, and built a sweet potato bed. Others read books, wrote book reviews, or designed costumes for book characters. Our participants attended coding and chess club or were a part of the college cattle team.”

St Catherine’s will continue to run the program again next year for those who are interested.

St John Vianney Primary School, Morisset

Eight enthusiastic students from St John Vianney Primary School, Morisset took part in the program this year including, Anna Westcott, Nathaniel Westcott, Bailey Petersen, Lachlan Peterson, Danielle Trevethen, Chloe White, Emily Mace and Maja Tilbrook.

As students received their passport, they began to accumulate learning hours every time they learnt a new skill or revised an old skill. Regular out-of-school activities such as netball, soccer, dancing, and scouts were automatically worth 10 hours. To attain the first certificate they needed to have reached 30 hours.

Students participated in activities such as cooking, concreting, pet care, board games and library visits and each school holiday, a booklet was sent out with extra activities and it was worth two hours of skill time. The university also sent out monthly challenges, for example making a pair of shoes using only newspaper. It also sent out a list of activities that students could do throughout each school holiday, such as visiting art galleries or museums.

“Our students graduated on Wednesday 30 November in the Great Hall, with Mr Devlin reading out their names and receiving their certificates from a professor of the university. After the ceremony, we went to the dining area, where they had dinner and a disco,” said teacher Jennifer Merrick.

Holy Spirit Primary School, Kurri Kurri

Twenty students from Holy Spirit Primary School, Kurri Kurri were part of the Children’s University Newcastle program and graduated on Tuesday 29 October.   

Deputy vice-chancellor learning and teaching Professor Liz Burd addressed the 200 graduates and their families, emphasising that learning is and should be a fun experience. 

In order to graduate students had to obtain a minimum of 30 hours of outside-school activities. 

“The Children’s University encourages students to undertake activities and experiences that they have not participated in before all the while emphasising fun whilst learning,” said teacher Penny Banister.   

Earlier in the year, students were invited to attend an on-campus day, which allowed them to experience some occupations. Students were able to listen to a wildlife volunteer, create nests and learn how to handle injured animals, observe the university’s community radio station in full swing, analyse rocks under the guidance of geologists and partake in some team-building activities that required students to rebuild a Rubik’s cube using giant blocks.

“The feedback from students and their parents was that their children’s involvement in the Children’s University program had opened up their minds to the possibilities of a future, which involved them attending higher education and pursuing careers that they may have deemed unreachable,” Ms Banister said.

“Children’s University has been an enjoyable and enriching experience, and this was evident by the smiles on the students’ faces as they were presented with their certificates by their school principal Mr Paul O’Heir.”

St Patrick’s Primary School, Cessnock

St Patrick’s Primary School, Cessnock has had another busy year taking part in Children’s University Newcastle.

Students were encouraged to learn new things outside the classroom such as maypole dancing, art and craft activities, sewing, knitting, and garden club. They also visited two public schools to take part in their after-school activities, thereby earning extra hours on their passports.

In July, St Patrick’s students visited the University of Newcastle for a day of learning where they took part in macramé – the art of knotting string into decorative patterns. They were also introduced to a marine biologist and played indigenous games at the Birabahn Building.

On Tuesday 5 November, 51 students took part in their third consecutive graduation at the Great Hall at the University of Newcastle. After three years, students were eligible for higher awards that included gold certificates and silver diplomas.

“On behalf of the acting principal, Maree Jones and the school executive, I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate all our St Patrick’s students for the hours they spent learning outside the classroom,” said teacher/librarian, Michael McKenzie.

“It was pleasing to see other Catholic schools signing up to Children’s University. Well done to these schools and congratulations to all your students.”

St Joseph’s Primary School, Gloucester

This is the first year that students from St Joseph’s Primary School, Gloucester have been involved with Children’s University Newcastle.

On Thursday 31 October, eight students and their families gathered in the Great Hall at the University of Newcastle, for this year’s Graduation Ceremony.

Students were dressed in academic gowns and received graduation certificates in recognition of the learning they had participated in over the year, outside of school.

“Our students participated in a variety of activities throughout the year including musical theatre, kick boxing, swimming, teddy bear hospital, bushwalking, puppet making, STEM activities, gardening, junior cattle show, pony club, whale watching, tree tops adventure park, netball, soccer, tennis, cooking and Australia Zoo,” said principal Bronwyn Underwood.

If you or your school are interested in signing up for Children’s University Newcastle in 2020, please contact Ms Selina Darney at Selina.darney@newcastle.edu.au.

To find out more about the program, click here.

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Gabrielle Sutherland Image
Gabrielle Sutherland

Gabrielle Sutherland is a Marketing & Communications Officer for the Catholic Schools Office and a regular contributor to mnnews.today and Aurora.