It’s a big decision to send your child to boarding school, but there are many benefits – something more and more families are starting to recognise, because boarding at Wesley is booming. Paul Munn reports.

New Head of Learning in Residence (LiR), Tom Giles, gets to know boarders

Having been a boarding school from our inception in 1866 through to 1980, boarding really is a part of Wesley’s DNA. When we relaunched boarding as Learning in Residence (LiR) at Glen Waverley in November 2016, we knew we had to reconnect with rural and regional Australia to develop a new generation of Wesley boarders. Eight years on, LiR has evolved into a thriving part of our community. We currently have 85 students boarding at LiR and are fast approaching our maximum capacity of 96.

The majority of our boarders are from regional Australia. 68% of our regional families are from Victoria, the rest largely from New South Wales, but also as far afield as Hobart and Darwin. Our international community is diverse with students coming from Hong Kong, Japan, China, Singapore and Vietnam.

Boarding is available for students from Years 9 to 12. Previously, potential boarders had the option of joining in Year 11; with demand growing, we are now seeing Year 10 filling out, resulting in many families opting for a Year 9 start to ensure they get in.

Head of LiR, Tom Giles, puts the current ‘boarding boom’ at Wesley down to several factors. ‘First and foremost, Wesley is a great school, and its reputation is a draw for parents,’ he says. He also points to the newness of the facilities and the appealing campus design aesthetic. But he notes, ‘the reality is that our rival schools are also excellent, with good reputations and first-class facilities. What sets us apart is the option for coeducational boarding – increasingly an important factor in parents’ decision-making – and it’s also how a school supports its boarders and students within it. The level of pastoral care, opportunity to engage with a range of endeavours, and purposeful academic support is something we are proud of.’

That pride clearly permeates through the whole community. Xavier (Year 9), from Wangaratta, says ‘We often get referred to as our own big family, and the people in LiR truly made me feel like I’m part of one big family made up of staff and kids from all over the world.’

Boarders at the St Kilda Road Campus in 1953 and the facilities enjoyed by Learning in Residence students today

Crucial parts of that ‘level of pastoral care’ at LiR are the live-in staff mentors who provide 24/7 supervision, staying overnight in the residences. Cunzhen Yang, who has been an LiR mentor since 2017, loves the diversity of the students she works with and the variety of activities that are organised to enrich their experience. For her, ‘growing together with young people’ is a special thing. ‘It’s like a gardener seeing flowers bloom through hard work,’ she said.

Her mentor colleague, Kerry O’Callaghan, also enjoys the multifaceted nature of this ‘community within a community. My job is a mix between teacher, counsellor and mum figure, depending on the student and what’s going on in their lives on any given day,’ she says.

A huge draw at LiR is the ‘range of endeavours’ on offer through the wealth of our cocurricular options and the Residential Curriculum itself. There are eight programs, ranging from the fun 'Activities' program, which includes go-karting or going to a show, to the 'Future Skills' program, which helps build employment and life skills, and the all-important Wellbeing program.

Tilly (Year 12) from Gippsland enjoyed indoor skydiving as part of LiR's residential curriculum

Lara (Year 11) comes from a sheep farming family in Victoria’s Western District. ‘I love how Wesley supports students in all their different pursuits and interests,’ she says. ‘The school I went to in the country was small and it kind of felt like everyone had to be the same. I just wanted something different.’

Amber (Year 11) has lived in Darwin all her life but chose to come to Wesley and LiR this year because she ‘had heard from many people that it was a great school, and also heard about all the opportunities provided at LiR, particularly for my tennis.’ A keen player, she says ‘I like all the opportunities I have available, and living in a bigger city means I have much more meaningful competition in tennis, which will help me improve my level.’

Being a boarder is an immersive experience, so living and studying in the same place really does promote a culture of learning. ‘One thing I have found very helpful is the one hour with a tutor we have every day from Monday to Thursday,’ says Xavier (Year 9). ‘It’s not something I thought I would appreciate as much as I do, but having an allocated hour of study really helps build good habits and it’s been very helpful to have a tutor here to help.’

Of course, being a boarder is an education in itself. When a student graduates from boarding, they typically have a unique set of skills that have been fostered through being independent, living away from home at a younger age, and learning to live with others. As our first LiR School Captain Tom puts it, ‘Learning to live with people who aren’t your family has allowed me to develop my interpersonal skills, and I’ve definitely been able to grow in confidence.’

His advice to anyone considering boarding is to ‘open yourself up to the experience, keep an open mind, and grab as many opportunities as you can. Boarding school, especially at Wesley, provides such a good chance to set yourself up for success. An opportunity too good to waste,’ he said.

Paul Munn is the Editor of Lion and a features writer.

Kenisha, Cate and Jasmine participating in 'Clean up Australia' Day

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