Performing Arts at Strathcona: Into the Future

I am delighted to announce the appointment of Ms Jennifer Meachem as our inaugural Head of Performing Arts commencing in 2018. Ms Meachem comes to us with a wealth of experience and knowledge gained from teaching music at leading independent girls’ schools across Melbourne, including Tintern and Loreto Mandeville Hall. Currently, Head of Music at Camberwell Girls Grammar School, Ms Meachem has developed a vibrant music program with very high participation rates and which has been described to me by her Principal as ‘sensational’. Over time, she carefully and strategically developed a Prep – Year 12 program providing challenge, variety and a high level of engagement by the girls and the community generally.

Ms Meachem has received a national Award for Excellence in Music Education and was also awarded Boroondara Symphonic Band Life Membership in recognition of her service. She is on the AMEB Victorian Examinations Advisory Committee to the Australian Music Examinations Board in Victoria and is currently serving as secretary of the Committee of Management of eMuse (Association of Music Educators).

At CGGS, she developed a Music Tour Program, the most recent of which went to Europe with 63 students. She is a highly experienced VCE music teacher and her students have achieved some exceptional results over the years. She is very excited at the prospect, not only of leading music at Strathcona, but also of taking up the role of oversight of our performing arts program.

As a former Drama teacher, dancer, amateur actor and Arts Advisor, I am passionately committed to the importance of a rich range of arts opportunities as an important part of a Strathcona education. While participation rates in sport and in the visual art program at the School are increasing, an analysis over the last five years has shown us that this is not the case in the performing arts. Our focus will be on both the curricular and co-curricular elements of our offerings from Prep – Year 12.

Mrs Georgina Nagy has informed the School of her intention to finish at Strathcona after over four decades of magnificent service. I am grateful for her suggestion to appoint someone to oversee the overall arts program as a strategy to unite the fine work of our performing arts teachers as one department, and send a strong message of commitment to the program.

Mr Scott Buchanan has done a fabulous job as an interim Junior School Co-ordinator (who will forget the wonderful ‘The Rooster Who Couldn’t Crow’) and we certainly wish him well in his relocation to country life. Ms Meachem is currently working with us and an expert arts education recruiter in the recruitment of a new Junior School Co-ordinator.

Mr Jason Parker will direct the senior School musical as usual next year (‘Legally Blonde’) as well as a Year 7 production. Mrs Marisa Rowlands is considering offering a Drama Club at the Tay Creggan campus and an additional drama production, perhaps at Year 10.

So, there will be much singing, dancing, acting and playing of music at Strathcona next year! We have committed investment and a strategic commitment to the arts, because not only do they bring joy to the heart, lift the spirit, expand one’s imagination and enhance well-being, but also because we know that they afford our students the development of important 21st century skills in a particularly unique way. We have dreams of our very own Performing Arts Centre one day; wouldn’t that be exciting?!

While Mrs Nagy is on leave and unwell at present, unfortunately, we are planning on a very special and fitting farewell for her over forty years of dedication and the outstanding talent she has afforded Strathcona music. Many of her former music students would love to wish her well and acknowledge the commitment she gave to them and to their musical development.

Reflection on the Importance of an Arts Rich Education
From years of experience we know that fostering a dynamic Arts program can be noisy, messy, resource intensive, and at times, daunting. Equally, we also know that students who are involved regularly in a diverse Arts program benefit greatly. The positives of offering a thriving and vibrant Arts program is something that we are passionate about and committed to for numerous reasons.

The Australian Council for Educational Research investigated the impact of quality Arts programs on the academic progress of students, their engagement with learning and their school attendance. Their findings demonstrated that through involvement in the Arts, students’ learning potential was enhanced, their self-esteem strengthened and as a result their self-confidence grew. Throughout the Arts programs, students were also observed to have developed their social, communication, team work and self-expression skills, indicating that when Arts programs are undertaken well that significant and varied outcomes are achieved. This confirms the research over many years, as well as what many educators have known, that sustained engagement in quality Arts programs can enhance a student’s

• Achievement
• Respect for self and others
• Training and life skills
• Self-expression.

Academic achievement
We know that by encouraging students to actively participate in the Arts that it assists with engagement in learning, being able to understand the concepts being studied, developing deeper understandings in whatever subject is being discussed, and well equipping students to express their understandings in different ways. Regular involvement in the Arts develops the higher order skills of analysis, synthesis and evaluation, as well as critical-thinking, problem-solving and decision-making skills. Research also indicates that sustained quality engagement in the Arts can enhance younger student’s literacy and numeracy skills.

Respect for themselves and others
Our many years of experience in the Arts has also demonstrated that with involvement in Arts programs, students demonstrate a greater ability of being able to connect and empathize with others as they understand and appreciate their cultures, traditions and symbols. The Arts are a way of changing perceptions and stereotypes of people who are different from them as they are exposed to different societies and cultures through their musical and dramatic pursuits. Students learn to respect and appreciate the differences and become more tolerant of others, as well as accepting and respecting their own culture.

Training and Life skills
According to the World Economic Forum 2015, it suggests that many of the skills employers will be looking for in 2020 will require young people to be able to think critically, work creatively, collaborate with others in a team and solve complex problems. Within a strong Arts program each of these skills is developed and so, by involvement in the Arts, students as tomorrow’s leaders, are being extensively prepared for the competitive and creative arena of the world beyond the school gates.

Through self-expression in the Arts, students learn focus, self-discipline, innovation, creativity and emotional expression as well as verbal and non-verbal communication skills. They learn to use a variety of media to express themselves and communicate using multi-literacies. They learn to use movements, symbols, visuals and sounds as well as words to convey meaning. They become polished, accomplished communicators whose experience in performance enables them to present, pitch and interview well. They learn to get in touch with their own feelings and those of others. When they create or observe a work of art they respond emotionally, they feel good about themselves, and they learn that there is more to life than what can be assessed by quantitative measures.

Mrs Marise McConaghy, Principal