From little things big things grow

AMONG the rolling hills of Yinnar South sits a small, rural primary school that is leaping to life.

Having grown by 10 new enrolments this year, principal Katy Grandin is confident the school’s shared learning focus is working.

“We offer a stages, not ages approach,” she said of the school’s structure.

Where in larger schools pupils are assigned a class according to their age, students at Yinnar South work with peers according to their level of development.

During a short classroom visit a group of students of varying ages were learning in a flexible, fluid environment as part of the Wattle group.

A wander through a neighbouring building revealed senior Callistemon students preparing to debate a mock court case – their enthusiasm evident as they researched arguments in small teams.

Although sustainability plays a large role in the rural school’s ethos, Ms Grandin was quick to point out students were exposed to a structured and science-based education.

“Because we’ve been so involved with sustainability, there’s a little bit of a perception that we play in the garden all day and don’t work,” she said.

“It’s balanced. The garden and the way we use the outdoor environment is part of our learning – it’s our learning environment.

“So we’re hands on and we get out in the garden and we use our natural spaces as part of our learning.”

The school incorporates its vegetable garden into the Stephanie Alexander kitchen program and grows indigenous, native seedlings in a greenhouse as part of linked community projects.

While the gardens continue to flourish, so too does the school’s physical infrastructure – a storeroom, double classroom, admin block and toilet block are recent additions to the grounds.

Ms Grandin is entering her fifth year at the school, and in that time has worked with the community to build a new culture.

The school’s WISE values of wellbeing, integrity, self-mastery and empathy are integrated into each child’s learning.

“We have a real focus on developing community and a shared ownership of the school,” Ms Grandin said.

“The kids are very involved in the decision-making process and if you speak to the students, they’ll tell you they’re very proud of their school.

“There’s a real sense of school pride; there’s a shared responsibility of their learning; it’s not them and us, and the staff are here to scaffold and support and guide.”

A large kitchen overlooks Yinnar South’s rolling countryside, while an adjoining room becomes a restaurant where students and staff share a cooked lunch together.

The school hall acts as the new playgroup’s meeting place on Wednesday mornings and an art-room throughout the week.

Its walls are lined with human-sized paper cut-outs of the school’s students, who last year traced their bodies and pinpointed their heart, limbs and joints using recycled material.

Ms Grandin boasts of the school community, made up of parents, staff and the broader township, who have embraced the mission to provide a dynamic learning environment.

“That’s why the school’s grown, because we have this really vibrant, passionate, dynamic team of people that are breathing life back into the school,” she said.

“(I hope we) continue to build on the ethics and values of the school that we’ve got about providing a unique environment where students are able to develop wholistically.

“We want to continue to keep that child really at the centre of what we’re doing.”