Achieving, Belonging and Growing with Gateway Community High
“A lot more than just teaching the curriculum goes on in our school,” says Jon Rheinberger, acting principal of Carlingford’s new special assistance school Gateway Community High.
“There’s an equal and parallel curriculum of social-emotional learning: developing relationships, understanding ourselves and others, and recognising the factors that play into our interactions.”
Photo: Our Gateway students have enjoyed and been highly engaged in remote learning during lockdown.
The Stage 5 special assistance school (for students in years 9 and 10 only) is on a mission. That is, to tune in to the needs of adolescents who are deeply depressed or anxious, who are avoiding school and who may be experiencing chronic academic failure as a result.
Slower paced, with a step-by-step process of building on current skills and knowledge, and more time for one-to-one instruction, the academic program is stripped back to essentials, which gives students more time to pursue individual interests and engage in resilience building activities. At the same time, Gateway works with Allied Health professionals to assist in rebuilding individual’s mental health.
“We’ve found that as soon as students start to cope better with their life challenges, they also reconnect with and reprioritise learning,” says Jon of the blended, individualised social-emotional learning and academics program that helps students face life challenges.
At the heart of the Gateway philosophy are the values Belonging and Respect. “We go out of our way to know each individual and treat them as young adults. When they know they belong and feel valued, the hurdles of life and education success become much smaller.”
Unlike mainstream school, Gateway doesn’t sweat the small stuff. Teachers are not interested in inconsequential details like uniforms and nose piercings. As well, ‘flying under the radar’ gets you noticed, not forgotten, and unsubmitted assignments or unexplained absences are treated as symptoms of a much larger issue, not matters for discipline. Gateway teachers are given a privileged and comprehensive understanding of student challenges and experiences—so they can predict the pitfalls and focus on ways of building stronger mental health.
The long period of Sydney’s lockdown has meant that these students, who already find school challenging, have encountered an additional curve ball. “When students need special, one-on-one assistance,” says Jon, “lockdown can potentially create another barrier to progress.”
However, Gateway responds to COVID-19 by elevating connection and the importance of mental and emotional health to an even higher level. Where once a check-in with each student was face to face, now it is by phone or video conference, and virtual, townhall-style conferences between the principal and parents are part of an ongoing schedule.
Maintaining interaction and enjoyment is vital when it comes to keeping students engaged in learning; however, it can present a logistical hurdle during COVID-19! This saw a recent hands-on terrarium project packaged and sent home to students. Using a glass jar, two types of rocks, charcoal for filtration, and soil, the project encourages students to be creative in assembling their terrarium. Key learning areas involve science, maths, and literacy.
Chips and a chocolate bar were a surprise bonus in the package—a treat (perhaps?) for their long walks through the neighbourhood gathering plants for their glass ecosystems. The excitement built as students progressed with the project and had students interacting regularly with each other and their teacher. A competition element was embraced by students who added their own decorative embellishments to their terrariums.
Gateway is uniquely positioned to take in its stride the additional barriers to learning presented by COVID-19 for two reasons. Gateway does not act alone, it has a head start to success because it draws on more than 70 years of adult learning expertise accumulated by sister institution Macquarie Community College. Additionally, Gateway Community High draws on years of knowledge and experience acquired by special assistant schools serving other communities, pioneers in educating adolescents with models that are already proven to work.
If you’d like to know more about what Gateway Community High can potentially do to help your child, come along to one of our upcoming Open Days.
Feel free to also contact the school on 8845 8835 or to arrange an enlightening conversation with Principal Jon Rheinberger.