Connecting students in challenging times

Connecting students in challenging times

For Margaret Jurd College, these times have been more challenging than anyone can imagine. This high school caters for all students of years 9 to 12, providing them with a supportive alternative education. The school embraces young people who want to complete secondary schooling living with mental health conditions that can be seen as challenging behaviours.

MJC students often live with a high level of anxiety and depression, and need to find their way to communicate about their feelings. This can be heightened by all the information running about the pandemic, social distancing, and staying at home, as it might be hazardous for them. The school’s counselling team is working very hard — as challenging as it can be — over the phone, or via Zoom, not only looking after the students but their families as well.  And while facing a new reality, struggling with the pressure of being at home and the challenges many families are facing today, they also need to keep up with their education.

Insights talked to Darren Twist, Principal at Margaret Jurd College, who explained how they had faced this challenge, and many others.

When they realised that everyone was going to stay home, teaching staff needed to make sure students would have resources such as iPads, computers, and internet connectivity, among other things. As the government’s measures began to take place, they moved as fast as they could to shift towards supporting students via distance.  They had full support from their strategic partner Pymble Ladies College, and Kate Hadwen, their Principal. She told Insights that through Meredith Scott, the Deputy Chair of the PLC Council, they moved to help Margaret Jurd financially and practically. As Mr Twist suggested, at MJC they “work to create positive futures together,” and that they “will never allow any financial strain to get in the way of a student’s education.”

Note attached to one of the Ipads that were donated to MJC

Their first point of assistance was lending their tech/IT team. Students and staff could ask for assistance at any time through live chat, a phone number and an email address. They also gave out their bank of 49 iPads, which Pymble Ladies occasionally provide to their students. For the Margaret Jurd students who received them -more than half of them-, it opened a therapeutic support window, where children, while playing online, receive counselling from their caseworkers.

To help start a new music program, three students and a teacher from Pymble Ladies donated their guitars, to begin with, and they are calling for others to support this program as well.

The aid and support didn’t stop there; more than six families are providing financial support to bring food to students and their families for at least six months. Staff and other students with their families who are also engaged with community services, in alliance with Harris Farm, are putting together food packs for more than 50 families that have called out for help.

One of the PLC donating her guitar to the MJC music program

Pymble Ladies students have also faced several challenges during this pandemic. At the beginning of 2020, when the virus was spreading, and as travel bans took hold, more than 300 of the 2280 PLC students were absent.  As Principal Hadwen said, they “went to online learning early and were really well geared up to move towards online education and had a good insight on how to support students working from home”. Staff are working online fulltime to support students academically and psychologically, making sure they are coping with their new e-learning while missing their school environment.

At the same time, the school is working on building social empathy in their students. That’s why they also have the Pymble Gives Back program, a program led by the school but open to everyone who wants to support them.  According to Hadwen, the program “has a number of different initiatives such as food collections to take to women’s shelters and girls creating little videos dancing, singing and reading stories sent to retirement homes, among others.”

Kate Hadwen, PLC Principal running one of the initiatives of Pymble gives back

Margaret Jurd has always been part of the Uniting Church community. Throughout the years they have received full support from Pymble Ladies College and the Shortland Congregation who gave them their church ground to build the school campus. They also work very closely with the Gordon Pymble Congregation and other community members who provide direct assistance (recently, one of them even funded a new library for all the students). Another key support person is Anne Empson, the School Relationship and Governance Manager of the NSW and the ACT Synod, and part of the school’s Board of Directors. She has facilitated the relationship with other schools such as Knox Grammar School- their new strategic partners, MLC and Ravenswood School for Girls among others.

Darren Twist, Principal at Margaret Jurd College, has asked Insights to share their gratitude with every single person from the educational and the congregational community of the Uniting Church for their constant support.

  • If you want to contribute with the Pymble Gives Back program, click here.
  • If you want to donate to Margaret Jurd College, click here.  

Angela Cadena


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