Building a community of connections: Girton launches innovative student wellbeing program

26 February 2024

Today it is widely accepted that our interpersonal connections are just as important to our mental and physical wellbeing as exercise and healthy eating. For young people in particular, connections play a powerful role in their emotional, social and cognitive development.

With those benefits in mind, this year ² has proudly unveiled a unique program designed to empower its Senior School students to build their “community of connections”. Named Co‑Connect, the program provides dedicated time each afternoon for students to engage in a wide range of activities that foster collaboration, personal development, inclusion and belonging.

Senior School teacher Ms Barb Fielder spent the second half of 2023 mapping out the detailed program of activities and creating the extensive array of materials required, consulting with students at every stage to ensure the program met their needs.

“The idea is to give our students an opportunity to build strong and positive connections with themselves, their peers, their studies, their House, the school as a whole, and the broader Bendigo community,” Ms Fielder said.

“The program was designed to be challenging, educational, inclusive, enjoyable and, most importantly, to encourage our students to embrace connections – something that will benefit them not only during this crucial phase of their development, but throughout their lives.”

“Our connections are so important, playing a fundamental role in providing us with a sense of happiness, security, support and purpose.”

To maximise student engagement, Co-Connect time is used differently each day of the week. While Monday involves a rotating roster of assemblies, often led by students, Tuesday centres around social and emotional learning (SEL). Following a program developed by the school’s SEL Coordinator, Ms Jo Christie, students are guided through practical and thought-provoking workshops on topics such as resilience, mindfulness and self-awareness.

Wednesday follows a unique timetable with an extended block of Co-Connect time at the end of the day focused on enhancing connections. Activities include mentoring programs that pair older and younger students as well as Girton Games, which sees students compete in fun academic and group work tasks to earn points towards the House Cup presented at the end of the year. This time will also be used for community engagement activities such as charity work.

On Thursday and Friday, students spend time engaging with their House groups through House assemblies and fun inter-House competitions, or they enhance their study skills through the school’s ‘A Step Ahead’ program. In the first week of this hands-on program, students learnt about the importance of time management firsthand as they raced around the school searching for hidden items in a scavenger hunt.

In designing the program, Ms Fielder ensured it was tailored for specific year levels, with the activities for Year7 students focused on supporting their transition to Senior School, while the activities for senior students complement their VCE studies.

According to Ms Fielder, initial feedback on the program from the school community has been overwhelmingly positive.

“Staff and students greeting me with smiling faces as they left activities was the feedback I was looking for,” she said.