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Girls moving in: Canberra Grammar School builds on co-ed boarding

Emma Macdonald

“Boarding school” sometimes has connotations of a harsh British colonial era.

But modern and busy families are finding it an indispensable option for providing a stable and nurturing school experience for their children for a whole variety of reasons.

And the establishment of Canberra’s first co-educational boarding school will provide a suite of new options for families of girls, from the start of 2019.

Head of Boarding, Gareth Downey, said the school had already fielded a number of expressions of interest, and enrolments for girl boarders next year was looking positive.

The school currently caters for 80 boy boarders between Years 7 and 12. They come from countries like China, Indonesia and India, and from regions across New South Wales. Some even board when their family home is in Canberra if parents travel for work or have demanding and unpredictable hours, or because of the transient nature of Canberra’s workforce.

With construction underway on a new purpose-built boarding house to be operational from the start of the 2019 academic year, the school is also implementing a master plan to create a new co-educational boarding village in coming years to cater for up to 158 students.

“We have found the co-educational transition has proven to be a big drawcard—it is not an option that is widely available in the region, and more and more families are choosing Canberra as a safe and friendly city they want their children to live in while they complete their schooling.”

Gareth, who is also a senior school Chemistry teacher who lives on campus with his family, said he had noticed the school culture change for the better over the last two years.

“I have noticed a change in the way the boys behave since the school has transitioned to being fully co-educational. With students now in a co-ed environment, each boy and girl brings a different individual benefit to the environment which enhances one another.”

The initial reaction from parents to co-educational boarding had been positive—particularly among parents of both sons and daughters who wanted their children to board at the same school.

“A lot of parents want to know their children can live and go to school in environments that reflect normal life—with both girls and boys.

“It is a more natural environment for them to grow up in and parents are asking us ‘what opportunities will there be for girl and boy boarders to socialise, study and relax together?’.”

When girls join the boarding community next year, they will reside in new private rooms with communal social and study areas. They will eat, and undertake all extra-curricular and social activities, with the boys, but also have their own break-out spaces.

The girls will be cared for by specialist residential and developmental care provided by a dedicated Assistant Head of Boarding for Girls, along with a team of residential and non-residential support staff.

All boarders at CGS have 24-hour, seven-day-a-week support from live-in and visiting tutors, a registered nurse and visiting doctor, while the Boarding Coordinator is the mum away from home who meets their everyday needs.

Boarding Coordinator, Christine Dobson, said families chose boarding school for a variety of reasons—academic excellence, to overcome the tyranny of distance when families lived overseas or even in nearby townships of Yass or Cooma, and even just because some children preferred to be able to cram as many academic, sporting and extra-curricular activities into their day as possible and boarding allowed them this time.

“Students often choose boarding because their parents may obtain a posting overseas, because their siblings went to the boarding school and spoke about the experience, or because they want the unique ‘home away from home’ experience only a boarding school can offer,” said Christine.

While it was normal to take a period of adjustment in the early stages, Christine said most students loved the independence and enrichment of life on campus and felt they were part of a tight-knit and caring community.

“We try and provide a really positive and social experience for all our students and we are implementing a new program—the Boarding Support Network—which will link boarders with day-families and keep them connected with a day-family right throughout their school journey.”

The general boarding experience of most students was an increase in independence, autonomy and organisational skills, and the school was increasingly fielding requests from families for short-term boarding places for their children who wanted the experience of living at school for a time.

Canberra Grammar School is now accepting applications for boys and girls for Boarding in 2019. For more information, please view CGS Boarding 2019 & Beyond.

An Information Afternoon will be held on Monday 11 June between 2 – 3.30 pm at The Snow Centre, Canberra Grammar School, 40 Monaro Crescent, Red Hill. Find out more and register online.

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Emma Macdonald

Emma Macdonald has been writing about Canberra and its people for more than 20 years, winning numerous awards for her journalism - including a Walkley or two - along the way. Canberra born and bred, she’s fiercely loyal to the city, tribally inner-north, and relieved the rest of the country is finally recognising Canberra’s cool and creative credentials. More about the Author

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