Last monday Julia had her last school concert. “Come and say farewell to our year 12 students” said the school’s newsletter. I have read this so many times during the years. The last senior concert, a big milestone, I am always moved to see how mature and grown up the kids look, standing on stage, confident and proud. And all of a sudden Julia was one of them. Since then it has been a succession of “last times” and here we are, tomorrow will be her last day of school!
Although it feels all a bit sudden, it has been a six years journey. We started by looking at the most suitable school for her. In Victoria students, generally, have to attend the school closer to their residence address. It is however possible to apply to go to a different school on the basis of curriculum grounds. Because of her interest in music and playing the cello she was able to find a place in a local school with an excellent music program and a good all round reputation and so, in 2010, she started at Northcote High.
Just like with primary school, I had to get used to a whole new system. The first three years all students learn the same basic subjects. Depending on what the school offers, they can choose different languages and from year 8 also a number of electives subjects. Julia had the opportunity to try woodwork and textiles, cooking and Chinese. In year 10 they are able to choose which direction they want to take and decide what subjects to study. It is in year 11 and 12 that they start working exclusively on the subjects they will take to their VCE exams, at the end of year 12.
Northcote High is a very big school for italian standards but this time, unlike in primary school, the classrooms had desks and chairs, a white board and we had to buy books. Not many…but at least some! Students have to wear a uniform. I dreaded the idea at first but I soon got used to it and so did Julia. In the self conscious years of adolescence it was a relief for her not to have to think of what to wear to fit in. They do have “free dress” days every term and occasionally even “themed” days, when kids can display their uniqueness and wear what they like best.
The music program has certainly been one of the highlight of the past 6 years and it’s one of the aspect of school in Australia that I like the most. The fact that it offers students the opportunity to play an instrument and perform without the need to attend a specific music school. Julia played in the orchestra and the strings ensemble from the beginning of high school. She went on interstate and overseas tours, established long lasting friendships and developed self discipline and confidence that will no doubt accompany her into adulthood. Plus she has tons of memories and a great musical repertoire!
Of course I have had my reservations. Unlike in Italy there is very little homework and studying done at home, the bulk of the work is completed during school hours. There are no random testing, no scary interrogazioni when the teacher picks a student and asks questions about a particular topic, giving marks according to the replys. Exams only start in year 10 and, in my opinion, are not taken too seriously until they get to year 12.
And there are hardly any consequences if a student is not performing well. No failing or have to repeat the year, just encouragement to try and do better next time. Although in principle this approach sounds very nurturing, I am still to be convinced of its potential success.
Julia has never worked very hard and has always done well but there has been a change in the past two years. She is still doing well but, finally, she is working hard! Her attitude has made me reconsider my doubts as I see her studying with great dedication and interest. Exams will start on the 29th october. She is going through this last stretch in a calm and relaxed way, taking one step at the time, spending time with her friends and playing her cello in between writing essays and reading Wuthering Hights and the Odyssey.
It has being a fabulous journey and, as after all the best journeys, I will be sad and relieved when it’s over.