As we approach the final days of the term, it is important that we take some time to look back on all that has been achieved over the first ten weeks of 2019 at Damascus College. For those who are newest to our community, our Year 7 students and those who have joined us at other levels – Term 1 has been a time of enormous change, and it is entirely understandable that young people are waning this week. For those in the senior years, the volume of assessment has come upon them rapidly, and the natural tension and anxieties that come with a heavier workload, while juggling life’s other commitments is challenging. The different experiences of students and families are all legitimate, and I congratulate students on having made such a positive commencement to 2019.
In our Catholic, Christian tradition, this holiday break sees us move from the season of Lent into Easter. It is the Easter story of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection that is foundational to Damascus College’s existence. Our school is a great school, but it exists to nurture to faith those who seek it. For us, Easter is not just a four-day public holiday; it is the story of hope – of the triumph of life over death – that sets us apart.
In our world with so much violence and despair, it is easy to be overwhelmed by the sadness and desperate situations that are around us. Jesus lived in a time of tremendous turbulence too, Jerusalem was occupied by the Romans and under their rule. The people of Jerusalem lived amongst violence and fear. Jesus was a victim of that violence and fear, at the hands of many who would have been known to him. In amongst that, our loving God enabled Christ to come back into our midst, following the violence, in a different and changed way. God’s resurrected Christ is a presence of peace and companionship. Jesus’ presence on the Road to Emmaus as a continuation of the Easter story, gives us an idea of the presence – “They (the disciples) said to each other, “Didn’t our hearts burn within us as he talked with us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us?” (Lk 24:32).
I think that one of the significant things we can do with young people this Easter is to help them find joy and gratitude for that which we have in life. To not allow those things which are negative or sad overwhelm us and to support students to see and find all that is good in their lives. Easter is an expression of hope and companionship in this world. It is these things that we will celebrate with our liturgy here on Thursday and perhaps as you crack into Easter eggs over the holidays or munch on the cross of a hot cross bun, you may take the time to talk about Easter, new life, beauty and hope that can reach beyond tragedy and difficulty with your young people.
For 29 years Damascus College shares the Easter story with the people of Ballarat. ‘The Final Hours’ is the dramatic representation of Jesus’ final hours on earth. Students with the support of Andrew Seeary, Nicole Burness and Adrian Newman have been working hard on this event over Term 1 and are to be admired for the commitment they will bring to their education and celebration over the holiday period. I acknowledge and celebrate the commitment of all involved.
In celebrating committed students, it has been great to welcome back our senior rowers from the Sydney International Regatta this week. Their success nationally has been remarkable. Our Division one crew finished 7th in the A final and our Division 2 crew finished 7th in the B final, both crews recording personal best times over the regatta. To have two crews finish inside the top 16 nationally is a wonderful testament to their skill, commitment and support. Particularly when you consider the resource base that some of the schools who finished ahead of them have. I congratulate both crews on their representation of Damascus College, and I thank Director of Rowing, Sharon Waters, Coaches Grant McKechnie and Sharon, staff members Kara Linayao and Nick Yandell and the excellent family support that accompanied the students. Congratulations rowers!!
Tomorrow night from 6:30 pm the rowing fraternity will gather at the Ballarat Greyhound Racing club to celebrate student achievement and to conclude the rowing season. The evening formalities will commence at 7:00 pm, with the evening to conclude by 10:00 pm.
Young people always amaze me. Asher Kuhn, one of our St Martin House Leaders, has single handily raised $1,500 for Project Compassion this year. This is the 6th consecutive year that Asher has effected a contribution of this size to the aid organisation of the Catholic Church – Asher was recognised at a St Martin assembly this morning, but he was very humble in not wanting it to be a comparative contribution, rather one that he hoped would make a difference. Young people are great!!
This Friday is the final day of fundraising for students, and it is a casual clothes day with a $2 donation asked for from all students. Students are asked to accessorise with crazy socks! Following our liturgy in the morning, students will work six shortened lessons before a 2:17 pm dismissal.
Yesterday we celebrated all things blue here at school with Xavier House Day. House Leaders, Hannah Keating, and Karen Hocking and the student leadership team profiled an excellent cross-section of student talent within Xavier House here at the College. Congratulations to all students who contributed to the Assembly.
Throughout the assembly we celebrated the achievements of St Martin House in winning the Athletics carnival, following their success at the Swimming sports. I congratulate St Martin students on a great team effort. Students were recognised as Age Group champions at the Athletics. Individual age group champions can be found here. Overall results for the Athletics carnival were
1st St Martin 2636
2nd Rice 2241
3rd Xavier 2158
4th McAuley 2040
Damascus College Debaters have kicked off their season locally, and I congratulate them on their busy start to the year and thank Loretta Kaval for her support of our public speaking and debating students.
Friday will be the final day of regular teaching for one of the great servants of Damascus College. Karen Simpkin is in her 41st year of teaching at Damascus College and Sacred Heart. Today I had the pleasure of working with her as she mentored our three graduate teachers, Hannah Muirhead, Tamzin Perkins and Ally Forsyth and it reinforced the privilege it has been to work alongside Karen. Just as these graduate teachers are learning from Karen, thousands of students have learnt from her in the classroom over these decades, and multiple school leaders have learnt from Karen in the strategic leadership of the College. She is a committed and passionate educator in the Mercy tradition, and I salute her wonderful contribution as a teacher and school leader in this community.
Best wishes for your Long Service Leave and subsequent retirement Karen. Another great contributor to Catholic education through the Catholic Education Office is Danielle Peters, and she will be stepping into Karen’s classes after the break.
Students will be able to wear Summer or Winter uniform (but not a mixture of both) for the first two weeks of next term. Can I ask families to please get out their Winter uniform now. As parents, daughters will say to you that no-one else has their skirt to knee length – please hold firm in supporting the College requirement in ensuring that it is the required length to avoid unnecessary and embarrassing follow up.
You may also be pressured to purchase a rain jacket. This item of uniform was introduced to cover the expensive blazer as students walk to and from school or as they wait at rural bus stops. It is an optional item of uniform.
Holidays should be holidays, but I encourage families to log onto PAM and ensure that you are up to date with your student’s progress in their respective studies. Holidays may provide an opportunity to catch up work that has been missed or to create a summary of first term learnings. Year 12 students are now one-third of the way through their learning program, and so a comprehensive revision of content to date will be important. There is an opportunity for an English tutorial for senior students in the second week of the holidays and students who engage with these additional opportunities typically perform better.
We remember Mark Courneyea and his partner Cindy as they grieve the passing of Cindy’s father this week. We keep them in our prayers. We also pray for all those who are affected by the fire, so many in our community were touched by this present threat last week, and we pray for peace and safety of all those who were impacted.
I wish everyone well for a blessed Easter and look forward to catching up next term…