Everyone wants to be at Freshie

Northern Beaches Secondary College Freshwater Campus is among the best attended schools in the state. Jim Griffiths finds out why.

Students and a teacher standing in front of a wall. Students and a teacher standing in front of a wall.
Image: Northern Beaches Secondary College Freshwater Campus Principal Chantelle Phair with Year 12 student leaders Vishi Kalra, Luna Ligertwood, Sophie Atkinson and Gabrielle White.

When you feel you belong there are no barriers to school attendance – not even an hour-long commute.

That at least is the philosophy at Northern Beaches Secondary College Freshwater Campus – or Freshie to those who love it – a senior school catering for students in years 11 and 12.

The college has such a good reputation that Principal Chantelle Phair receives 800 applications each year for its 350 Year 11 places, with 35 per cent of those coming from private schools.

And yet, even with a large cohort of students coming from other schools, Freshie has a sense of belonging that has put the school third in the state for attendance.

Student leader Luna Ligertwood said building connections was a key element of the school’s success.

“The huge cohort means every person is likely to find someone else that they’ll click with,” she said.

The sense of belonging is something that has been developed, importantly, with the input of the student leadership group.

“Our student leaders felt they didn’t really belong until the end of Year 11, so they decided this year they wanted to do a two-day orientation program to make sure the new Year 11s got that sense of belonging straight away. And kudos to them as it’s worked,” Ms Phair said.

Year 12 student Sophie Atkinson said students were encouraged to get out of their comfort zones, but always within a supportive environment.

“Many really felt like it was a good foundation to start new conversations and get out of their class groups because you don’t necessarily talk to other kids in other classes,” she said.

“In other schools you might fall through the cracks, whereas here you’ve got someone to pick you up, and that someone is often another student. We’re all together.”

Student leader Gabrielle White said it was important students felt they could be their authentic selves.

“It’s so unjudgmental and open here. You can wear jewellery and someone will come up and say ‘Oh my God, I love that about you’, or you’ll get a teacher come and say ‘I really like your hair’,” she said.

For Vishi Kalra, this sense of maturity is exemplified by the trust placed in the students.

“Since we are a senior school, we don’t have the more bureaucratic processes of detention and basic forms of discipline,” he said.

“They don’t really serve a purpose here, as we’re aware of the responsibilities that come with being in the senior school.”

The Year 12 students also approach their learning with maturity.

“I know I have to take responsibility for my learning. At Freshie, you’re taking your studies into your own hands. You’re forcing yourself to grow up and get ready for uni, which I think is so important,” Gabrielle said.

The Freshie timetable is structured to allow 20-minute breaks between 75-minute lessons, which allows students time to refresh and be mentally prepared for the next lesson.

It also comes with other benefits.

“You actually get stuff done. You have that time to just finish some homework off, which helps with the school-home balance as well,” Sophie said.

And that important link between attendance and being your best self? For the Freshie student leaders it’s clear.

“Even on days where I’m not feeling it, I’ll come to school and I’ll feel better because I’m in an environment that actually supports me,” Sophie said.

“Whereas if you’re home, I feel like you just sit in your own sadness or whatever it might be. So, to come and clear your head at school is really beneficial.”

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