Swiftie School creates friendships and Tay Tay bracelets

Excitement is building at Swiftie School at Wollongong High School of the Performing Arts ahead of Taylor Swift’s Sydney concerts. Julee Brienen reports.

Students at Wollongong High School of Performing Arts singing Taylor Swift's 'Love Story' while making bracelets.

When tickets to Taylor Swift’s Eras tour went on sale in Australia last November, students and teachers at Wollongong High School of Performing Arts went into meltdown with excitement.

Avid Swifties, teachers Caitlin Griffiths and Laura Cram, came up with a novel idea for student engagement and it’s now one of the most popular classes at school.

The teachers created a Swiftie School at recess and lunch, encouraging students to make friendship bracelets and, more importantly, make new friends and connections.

Using a small amount of school funds and dipping into their own pockets, they bought thousands of colourful and glittery beads and letters, setting up multiple stations for students to create friendship bracelets with names, quotes and phrases inspired by the pop icon.

Taylor Swift’s sold-out Sydney concerts start on Friday and, as with all her shows, friendship bracelets are traded between fans. The trend has its origins in Swift’s lyrics from ‘You’re on Your Own, Kid’, according to ‘Cosmopolitan’ magazine:

“Cause there were pages turned with the bridges burned
Everything you lose is a step you take
So make the friendship bracelets
Take the moment and taste it
You’ve got no reason to be afraid.”

English teacher Caitlin Griffiths said Swiftie School started in Term 4 last year and averaged about 30 students per session.

Students from Years 7 to 12 and other Swiftie teachers come together each Tuesday to dress up, play and sing along to Taylor Swift songs while they make friendship bracelets for their friends and families and to trade with other Swifties at concerts.

“It’s been building week by week and last week we had over 50 students here. They were all over the place, sitting on the floor, out the door. It’s been incredible,” Ms Griffiths said.

Sense of belonging

The students have made thousands of bracelets over the past few months, but that’s not the main aim of Swiftie School.

Science teacher Laura Cram said Swiftie School was about the connections the students made with each other and school staff.

“We have kids from Year 7 to 12 all sitting at tables together, all talking about Taylor Swift, singing along to her music. They have this one common connection, and it fosters a sense of belonging at the school,” she said.

“There are students here I didn’t know before and have never had in my class who are now coming up to me in the halls and talking to me about the new album coming out or asking me what I thought of the movie.

“It’s just really lovely to have this common connection.”

Both teachers have a background in student wellbeing and know the importance of creating opportunities for students to keep them connected to school.

“This is the richness of school life. That’s the only reason we are here; we want to make their lives fuller and make them want to come to school and look forward to it,” Ms Cram said.

Year 12 student Kristin Mitchell got involved in the class last year and said it was fun for students and teachers to share something they were passionate about.

“There is clearly a really big Swiftie fan base at the school which makes sense because we are a performing arts school,” Kristin said.

“This has been unique and fun. I’ve met a lot of people who I never knew before.

“The teachers have been absolutely so lovely and generous, and it’s so cool that they are sharing this whole experience with us as friends almost.”

Year 9 student Amy Purdie who last week attended one of the Melbourne Taylor Swift concerts has made more than 50 bracelets and traded all of them at the concert for new ones.

“All the bracelets I’m wearing today are traded,” she said.

“Making the bracelets was fun and before I started this class, I didn’t know many Swifties and now I know so many.

“I’ve made new friends and I’m even closer to one of my old friends because we have something in common and we can get excited, and we talk about it all the time.

“I just love these teachers so much. It’s so good to be able to have something in common with your teachers because it’s not just learning about school but about what they like, too.”

Students and teachers in a classroom making bracelets. Students and teachers in a classroom making bracelets.
Image: Students from Wollongong High School of Performing Arts have been busy preparing for Taylor Swift's visit to Australia.

Thinking outside the box

The school’s deputy principal, Kylie Wood, said Swiftie School embodied the way the teachers always looked for ways to engage students in all aspects of learning.

“I have to give it to our teachers who are always thinking outside the box,” she said.

“Taylor Swift is a great role model and it’s a credit to our teachers to come up with something like this.”

Swiftie School had benefits for student wellbeing, she said.

“They are making connections, developing social skills and helping each other.

“We want our students to leave here as complete human beings that we are proud of, and these programs reflect that.

“Laura and Caitlin are two teachers out of 80-plus at this school who go the extra mile for their students. The students know that, and they appreciate it.”

Teachers and students sitting at a table making bracelets. Teachers and students sitting at a table making bracelets.
Image: Caitlin Griffiths, Kristin Mitchell, Laura Cram and Amy Purdie making bracelets.
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