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Listening to children's hopes and dreams

Schools

South Australia’s Commissioner for Children and Young People, Helen Connolly, bounced into St Joseph’s School at Barmera last month as part of her regional ‘Hopes and Dreams’ tour of the Riverland.

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Ms Connolly joined students on the school’s jumping pillow – the first in the State and only the second in Australia.

She said the idea for the jumping pillow came from the children.

Lalainie, Samantha, Chloe, Mikayla and Elizabeth with Helen Connolly.

“The school’s fundraising committee asked the children what they wanted to do with some funds they had raised,” she explained.

“A swimming pool and trampoline were the top two requests but with further consultation they came up with a more realistic and safer option of the jumping pillow.

“I’ve witnessed the sheer joy of the kids using it and it’s not just for play time.”

Principal Lee Abela said the jumping pillow was embedded into the curriculum at the school and wasn’t just a novelty item.

“The children can use it during recess and lunch but it’s also part of their PE program,” he said.

“It’s great for coordination, movement, balance and core strength development so is a real asset for this school.”

That’s not the only thing St Joseph’s consulted the students on. About seven years ago when Mr Abela first came to the school there was a lot of feedback from children that they were hungry at lunchtime or they had nothing left to eat come lunch as they had eaten everything at recess.

A survey of children found that the best time for learning was after recess because it was after the children had eaten.

Mr Abela decided to trial a swap of recess and lunch and have a 40-minute lunch break at 11am and a shorter 20 minute break for recess at 1.50pm, meaning the children would not be so hungry by the afternoon and would still have something left to eat.

St Joseph’s School students from Years 5,6 and 7 with Jodie Evans from the Office for the Commissioner for Children and Commissioner Helen Connolly.

With the hottest part of the day in the afternoon, this also meant the children would now get their longer outside playtime in the cooler, earlier part of the day.

There was some uncertaintly from the school board and the parents, but after a week of the new system teachers reported that the children were more engaged and the quality of work was better. Six years later it’s still in place.

Ms Connolly said St Joseph’s believed in treating children as individuals and giving the children what they need. “It’s not a one size fits all model,” she said.

She praised Mr Abela, saying enrolments at the small school had increased from 52 to 68 and this has helped rebuild community partnerships and relationships by being inclusive.

“What I loved about this is that the children were the focus. For the first time they were asked about when they thought they did their best learning and what they needed at the school, and it’s had a massive impact and has made a real difference for everyone.”

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