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Boarders rise to the challenge


To mark National Boarding Week (May 16-22), two Sacred Heart College boarding house leaders reflected on their experiences during COVID-19.

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Charlotte Bruhn and Jack Armfield will have plenty to talk about when they look back on their years as boarders at Sacred Heart College.

The two captains of the girls and boys boarding houses experienced the historic closure of the Somerton Park boarding school last year at the height of COVID-19 restrictions in Adelaide.

It was the first time in 116 years of boarding at the Marist college that the residential facilities were shut during school term.

Charlotte was one of the first to be impacted by the pandemic when one of her classmates tested positive for the virus towards the end of Term 1 and she had to go into immediate isolation.

A number of other boarders were in the same class and together with Charlotte were ushered into a separate room where they spent the afternoon while staff frantically tried to contact their parents and make arrangement for them to return home.

“We sat around eating lollies,” Charlotte recalled. “No-one knew what was going on, there were lots of phone calls and emails going backwards and forwards.”

The school was closed for two days for deep cleaning and Charlotte returned to her home in Mount Gambier, hoping to return to boarding school after the school holidays.

However, as the pandemic continued and restrictions on residential facilities increased, the boarding house was closed for three weeks in Term 2.

Charlotte said initially she was a “bit stressed” about the amount of school she was going to miss but her teachers ensured there were plenty of online resources available and were “super helpful”.

“They suggested putting on my uniform each day and acting like I was at school…I didn’t go quite that far but it did help me to stay disciplined,” she said.

Jack, who is from Naracoorte, said his parents were “real careful” about keeping him away from the rest of the family even though he wasn’t required to quarantine.

“Mum put me in mini-quarantine in my bedroom for a couple of days and made me wear gloves and have dinner in my room just to be safe,” he laughed.

“She’s a nurse so she couldn’t really take a risk when she had to go to the hospital every day.”

During the hard lock down in November, the boarders again had to go home. Jack said he was sitting his exams at the time and had to complete three of them at home.

With public transport ruled out and the lock down effective almost immediately, Mr Gill said it was “like something out of a movie trying to get all these kids home”.

“We’re much better prepared now, we’ve got emergency procedures and all parents have to indicate whether they want their children sent home or stay with family in Adelaide,” he said.

While this year has been much more ‘normal’ for Jack and Charlotte, they did get caught up in the recent Western Australian COVID case after travelling to Perth for a Marist schools leadership gathering.

“When we got back to South Australia we were told there was COVID case found in Perth and until further notice we had to immediately go into quarantine,” Jack explained.

“That was annoying because it was at the start of Year 12 when we were trying to get back into a routine after the holidays.

“The supervisor woke me up at 7am and put us into a room at the back of the boarding house and rang our parents and told us to get them as quickly possible.

“Gilly (director of Boarding, Robert Gill) dropped me half way, then Mum picked me up and made me put a mask on and sit in the back seat.

“So I got home and I was back to the same quarantine – mask, gloves, meals in my room.

“It was about a week and then we got told that the case never spread so we came back and had to take COVID tests.”

Jack and Charlotte praised the boarding school students and staff for the way they handled the COVID restrictions.

“Our community held up really well,” said Charlotte. “It’s made us really close.”

She said the best part about boarding was being surrounded by friends all the time.

“They really do become like family, the boys as well, they are like your brothers and you can always go to them if you’re having a bad day,” she said. “The supervisors are really helpful too.”

Jack said boarding school had helped him develop independence and good study habits.

“You generally get a weekly allowance and you have to budget it, you have to look after yourself and work through everything that comes your way,” he said.

“A lot of my friends who are day kids wish they had the study routine we have because there’s too many distractions at home.”

Mr Gill said the experience Jack and Charlotte had last year, when they were Year 11 boarding house leaders, had helped define their leadership for this year.

“They are wonderful advocates for their peers, that’s what we want them to be as leaders,” he said.

“To have that communication from the student body about what they are finding challenging, what they are finding rewarding, how can we do things differently…I feel as director of boarding it’s made it a much more holistic and collaborative environment.”

Jack said he and Charlotte worked well as a team: “We figured that out that last year, there’s never really one person doing all the work, we’ve also got deputies in Year 12 who do a really good job.”

The leadership group has developed a number of initiatives to benefit the boarding school including a community garden that is used by the chefs in preparing in meals and installing compost bins for food waste. They have also designed a communal space for next year’s leaders to progress, budget permitting.

There are currently 62 boys and 61 girls in the boarding school with only one spare place for Year 12 next year and a waiting list for other years.

Sacred Heart is one of three Catholic colleges with boarding schools, the other two being Rostrevor College for boys and Loreto College for girls.


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