Guest blogger, Jennifer, Wesley Parent.
When people ask me or my daughters where they go to school, they are almost always surprised that they attend Wesley College. ‘Wesley College? Isn’t that a boys’ school?’ They ask. The girls smile and nod and explain that the Junior School is co-educational and that girls attend the school from Pre-kindergarten to the end of Year 6. Sometimes they are asked where they will be going to high school and the conversation moves on.
When I am asked this question, I tend to describe what a wonderful time my children are having, what a lovely community of parents and teachers Wesley enjoys and that the school has been co-educational from its earliest days. In fact, there have been several decades of co-education at Wesley College and the Old Wesley Collegians’ Association now boasts 628 Old Girls, over many generations.
As my eldest daughter approaches the end of her schooling at Wesley, (she will be graduating from Year 6 in just over a week), I find myself reflecting on her experience. As parents, it has been quite a journey accompanying our children through their primary school years. As with most parents, my husband and I have enjoyed the rewards and challenges of raising a tiny human, watching her grow and learn and navigate the world year by year. Her life, as far as I can see, has mirrored the progression of children all over the world, who are fortunate enough to attend school and become armed with the arsenal of social and academic skills that a primary school education provides.
When my daughter was tiny, I started researching schools and their education models and came across Wesley College. I was attracted to Wesley’s emphasis on community and parent involvement and inquiry-based learning. We were moving around, building a house, not sure of our permanent address. When my daughter was offered a place at Wesley, I was happy and relieved. She would be at a lovely school and wherever life may take us she could stay at Wesley during her primary school years.
Parents choose according to their children’s needs and their own schooling experience. Some choose single-sex from a very early age if they feel their boys or girls will benefit. Co-education was our preference. With two little girls, we felt that a mixed environment would allow them to develop friendships with boys and girls, to work together during innocent and crucial developmental years. We haven’t looked back.
From day one, my girls have enjoyed a nurturing, challenging, creative and loving learning environment. A very pleasing aspect of Wesley College Junior School life is the mutual respect between teacher and student and the boys and girls. I noticed very early on, that the children’s ideas were encouraged and valued and my daughters developed a sense of confidence and joy in learning and sharing ideas with others. They approach their teachers in the classroom and the playground with confidence and a natural sense of welcome that I really value.
As with most co-educational classrooms, the energy of boys and girls together gives rise to both an active and reflective learning culture, allowing individual learning styles to thrive. It has been noted on a number of occasions that the boys and girls complement each other in the classroom. While no two kids are the same, the boys draw from the strengths of the girls and the girls likewise become active in their learning, question-asking and trying-out (qualities that are nurtured and drawn out in the company of boys). The playground is full of noisy, active, adventurous children, who are navigating the perils of the pirate-ship; running the lawns; rolling tyres; digging and planting in the sustainable garden; kicking balls – or sitting in the shade sharing stories; visiting the library to join a club or read a book. A crossover of boys and girls involved in each activity. It is also a safe place where social relationships are negotiated, formed and challenged.
As it happens, Wesley’s version of co-education is unique because the boys will often continue on at the school during their high school years while the girls will move on. This has hit home this year, with my daughter gearing up to leave and my husband and I looking to her future and preparing to send her into her high school years. It is bittersweet saying goodbye to Wesley. Some of her girlfriends will go on to single-sex high schools, some to co-educational high schools. They will all be saying farewell to the boys who have been their friends and learning companions for some eight years. Both the boys and girls are sad to say farewell. Both have benefitted from and enjoyed each other’s company. There are great memories between them – and a natural sense of mutual respect that will permeate their future years, whichever high schools they attend.
Along the way, there have been many inclusions that perhaps would not have occurred in a less unique coeducational environment. During her years in Junior School, my eldest daughter was involved in Girlpower and other programs aimed at nurturing healthy friendships and empowering young female students. I’m really excited that the Junior School will be introducing an amazing science program that will benefit the girls and boys to come – and one from which my younger daughter will greatly benefit.
Integrating girls into the Middle School posed many questions and involved discussion about how girls can interact successfully as a minority (a valuable life skill for the world to come) as extra classes of boys joined the school. The Middle School girls have thrived and have become a strong, confident presence as it turns out – happily throwing themselves into science, maths, literature, sport and art alongside the boys (the champion Year 6 swimmer was one of our girls this year), enjoying the richness and variety of perspectives a mixed environment can bring – and Middle School has become a highlight of their Wesley years!
Looking even further into the future, at the next generation, I wonder at what educational choices my daughters will make for their children. I feel pretty confident that they will look back upon their experience at Wesley College with fondness and try to find a school that nurtures their sons or daughters in the same way this lovely school has done them. The vibrant, welcoming, co-educational Junior and Middle School at Wesley has laid a wonderful foundation for my girls’ future and for that I am very thankful!
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