Preparing Boys for Life

Scotch College

“We are not stuck in the past,” Headmaster Alec O’Connell insists, “but we hold on to our traditions.” The Uniting Church day and boarding school for boys is known for maintaining its core values and commitment to community, while simultaneously breaking new ground in the educational sector. The ultimate goal of this holistic approach is to prepare boys for life, Dr O’Connell explains. “That is the focus of everything we do.”

Building Community

An important part of preparing boys for life is helping them to become active members of the global community. “Because these boys won’t find themselves landlocked in Perth,” Dr O’Connell points out. “Those days are gone. They will have some sort of interaction globally.” National and local community is equally important to the boys’ future, he adds, so active participation is encouraged at all three of these levels. “I believe that schools have to have good partnerships with the community,” Dr O’Connell explains. “Schools for too long have been too insular. You have to have an outreach. It is just so much better for the boys and the staff to have that connection with the wider community.”

Students are actively involved in a number of community outreach programs, including volunteering in India, helping to build a school in Cambodia, working with Aboriginal students in Jigalong, supporting newly arrived refugees in Perth, and helping to preserve the ecology of a nearby lake. “We have a strong community outreach because we are very fortunate,” Dr O’Connell explains. “Part of our role is to make sure that the boys understand how fortunate they are. Not to apologise for it, but to understand what it means. They are in a position that they can contribute to the wider community through service, which is really important.”

Scotch College’s overriding sense of community is also clearly evident within the school itself. The entire institution, which includes years one through twelve, enjoys a close-knit connection within the student body, as well as active parental participation. “Parents feel genuinely welcome to come onto this campus to engage with their boys’ education,” Dr O’Connell says. “I think it is important to keep the parents involved in the school, even as the boys get older. There is a genuine philosophy here that parents are integral to what we do.” In fact, the administration conducted an extensive market survey last year that, among other things, examined why parents chose to send their sons to Scotch College. “One of the main reasons that they chose to come was the feeling of belonging, of community,” Dr O’Connell reports.

A number of community-building activities, in addition to the College’s outreach programs, help keep everyone involved and engaged with each other. For instance, Scotch College enjoys “huge turnouts” at sports days and school functions. The school’s world-class pipe band keeps students connected and allows them to perform together both locally and around the globe. The band’s most recent international performance was all the way across the world at a prestigious Tattoo in Norfolk, Virginia, USA. Scotch College is also home to the Perth Symphony Orchestra and to the West Australian Youth Jazz Orchestra. One recent event that this special partnership enabled was a joint concert with both Scotch College student musicians and the Perth Symphony Orchestra. The event was a huge success and brought together over 2,500 members of the local community.

International Baccalaureate Program

Scotch College is one of the few schools in Australia to enjoy the distinction of being an International Baccalaureate (IB) World School. The prestigious program was launched in the mid-1960s, during the early days of globalisation, Dr O’Connell reports. As people began relocating internationally, their children were burdened with having to switch from one type of curriculum to another. “The Baccalaureate was established to give some kind of consistency on the global stage,” Dr O’Connell explains. “The Primary Years and Middle Years Programmes are not a curriculum per se – they provide a framework and a philosophy. We still teach the Australian curriculum, we still teach a lot of things which are similar to other schools, but we do it through the lens of International Baccalaureate.” However, at the Diploma level that is offered to Years 11 and 12, it is an internationally approved curriculum.

Scotch College’s desire to build community makes the IB program an ideal fit for the school. In fact, Baccalaureate students are required to participate in the community action and service programs in order to earn an IB Diploma. And, of course, as the name implies, an international perspective is integral to the IB program. “That’s why our curriculum is focused around what it means to be truly international,” Dr O’Connell explains. This goes far beyond the internationally focused special events that many schools may occasionally host. “[Those events] are very important, but they are not embedded programs,” he points out. “I think internationalisation is really about a mindset and it has to be developed through the curriculum and through your service programs. It’s not just something you add on.”

The IB program also promotes a special – and effective – style of learning. “It is inquiry based,” Dr O’Connell explains. One key component, known as Theory of Knowledge “is about really learning to learn, or learning to think.” The program is also academically rigorous. “You have to study a subject from one of the six areas,” Dr O’Connell points out. “You can’t drop subjects or just pick the ones you prefer. You have to study a language. You have to write an extended, 4,000 word essay.” And, this is all in addition to logging the required service hours. While the program may seem intimidating, Dr O’Connell insists that it is designed for all students, including those who may not be as academically gifted. “It is rigorous, but it is not just for the bright boys,” he says. “That’s one of the fallacies. People talk about the IB as if it is just for bright boys. It is not at all. It was never established for that.” Instead, every Scotch College student can benefit from the IB program. The Diploma is offered as one of three major choices at Scotch; the others being the state based WACE program and the Vocational Education and Training course.

Top Facilities

Scotch College enjoys world-class facilities and learning tools. Notably, the school has just been named an Apple Distinguished School for its utilisation of leading edge technology. The prestigious recognition “is not just about having laptops,” Dr O’Connell explains. “It’s deeper than that. There’s got to be vision and leadership and it’s got to have an influence on the teaching and learning program. You don’t just get it because you bought Apple computers.” Furthermore, Scotch College is committed to keep advancing its already impressive use of technology. In fact, the school hopes to eventually replace all of its textbooks with iPad options, and currently has three pilot programs in place to work toward that goal.

Scotch College is also in the process of building a new middle school. Stage one is slated for completion by October, and will include the construction of 20 classrooms, two science labs, and two support centres. An innovative floor plan fosters interaction by replacing traditional corridors with four and five meter wide “learning arcades,” which extend each classroom’s learning space. Phase two of the project will be the construction of a middle and junior school library and gallery. In addition to displaying student artwork, the gallery will be an ideal space for presenting student projects and visual arts, which are an important component of the IB and other programs offered at Scotch.

Another important building project is the upcoming construction of an underpass to connect the two halves of the Scotch College campus, which is divided by a busy road. “We will be connected for the first time,” Dr O’Connell reports. “That will really make a big difference.” In fact, Dr O’Connell sees the new connection as symbolic of the school’s deep sense of togetherness. “This represents a symbolic connection for the pupils, the community and the future,” he insists. It is a fitting metaphor for a school that has been deeply committed to bringing students, faculty and staff together with the local, national, and international community for 116 years. “It all goes back to community,” Dr O’Connell insists. For building community is key to “preparing boys for life.”

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December 16, 2018, 3:52 PM AEDT