An Interview With Principal Jennifer Oaten On Boarding

Being National Boarding Week, we felt it was an excellent opportunity to interview our Principal, Jennifer Oaten, about her time boarding at Santa Maria College and also what she sees were and are the benefits.

What do you believe are the benefits of boarding?

Living together in a boarding house with 38 girls is challenging. This develops tolerance, understanding of others and an attitude of helping others. You also have to manage things such as your washing, your money and your study. You develop great independence and resilience when the road gets a bit bumpy. The 150 girls in boarding come from all over the state, so this enables boarders to develop a wide network of friends and connections. Being onsite provides benefits; boarders do not have travel every day as they often would at home. By having school at the doorstep provides boarders with many opportunities to try such as music, sport, service and drama.  These opportunities may not be on offer at home, along with many more choices of subjects.

Do you believe boarding has changed since you were a boarder, and what are the biggest changes?

Scotch eggs, ham steaks with pineapple and meatloaf are three foods I have bad memories of from Boarding and can no longer eat. Today there are many more choices and variety the food is much better. It is always challenging catering for so many different tastes!

My Mum wrote me letters, and it was the highlight of my week. There were only two pay phones for the whole house and no social media. We would save our 20c pieces and queue up to call home once a week. Parents could only call on the house phone, and they could never get through because it was always busy. The girls now call home every day on their mobiles!

Netflix means everyone can watch what they want when they want. I remember the excitement of a movie night when we would gather in the boarders dining room as a treat, on the floor with doonas and pillows. I remember watching Grease for the first time, and we all thought John Travolta was incredible!

How did you cope with being away from your family when you arrived in boarding?

My family made many sacrifices so I could be a boarder, so I was determined to make the most of my time at school. I coped with being away by working hard at school and playing lots of sport (netball, softball and tennis) so that I was always busy.

I was also fortunate to have family friends who would take me out on a Sunday as we had very few recreational activities. They included me as part of their family, as did a day student’s family. I remember going to my Italian friend’s house for lunch on a Sunday and having lasagne, thinking this was the main course, I ate a big bowl, only to be served up a roast for the actual main course!

I was also very independent and knew it was my best opportunity for my future. I had no idea I would become a teacher and then a Principal!

As the Principal of Santa Maria, what are the biggest challenges you see that are associated with boarding today?

As a country girl coming from open spaces and lots of time outdoors, it is challenging living in a city area where space is limited, and there are rules and regulations needed to live together as a community, so the lack of freedom is challenging. Some of our girls come from tiny schools of 20 students where Years 3-6 students are combined in one class. The girls then arrive at Santa Maria, which is such a large campus with so many students. This can be daunting academically, finding your way and adjusting to living in Boarding. I treasured quiet time by myself but in boarding, it is often difficult to find time and space to be by yourself. The biggest challenge is being away from family, friends and a community where you know everyone.

What is your favourite memory from your time in boarding?

Carrying our mattresses down from the top floor dormitories of McAuley Building down to Ursula House in Year 8 when the Boarding House opened. We moved from the dormitories where 20 girls had a cubicle with wooden dividers and curtains to give some privacy. We thought the new Boarding Houses with our own rooms were like a 5-star hotel!

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