EDUCATING HEARTS AND MINDS
“We talk about educating the hearts and minds of our students,” says Michelle McCarty, Director of Mission and Leadership at Loreto Mandeville Hall Toorak, an independent girls’ school in Melbourne, Australia. “That means giving students the best possible academic education, while also forming them in a set of attitudes, ethics and morality that’s steeped in the Catholic and Loreto tradition. It helps students to see and learn about the world in a particular way.”
The Loreto Sisters were founded in England in 1609 by the visionary nun Mary Ward, who travelled across Europe establishing schools and communities. Since then they have been dedicated to providing a holistic education for Catholic women and girls. In 1924 the Loreto Sisters bought Mandeville Hall, a disused Victorian mansion on 13 acres of land in the Melbourne suburb of Toorak, and established the school whose traditions the staff and students are proud to continue today.
“I think having a long tradition and history to draw upon gives real depth to our sense of purpose and what we’re about,” says McCarty. “Knowing that our heritage is shared, not just in Australia but all around the world, makes us feel part of a wider global community. Our girls are very proud of the values of the school and the Loreto tradition, which they’re able to articulate and make sense of in their everyday learning.”
“Each academic year we focus on one of the school’s core values,” McCarty continues. “The senior students devise an expression or statement based on that value, which they then integrate into their artwork and speeches for the year. This year, the value is justice, and the accompanying saying is: ‘With open hearts we welcome all to the table.’ The idea of being open and hospitable is an important part of the Loreto tradition. We encourage students to think about community and building the right relationships rather than just focusing on the individual.”
Aside from the comprehensive list of academic subjects available at Loreto Toorak – including aviation, archaeology, positive education and legal studies – there is an exhaustive selection of co-curricular activities. Some girls take up the disciplines of competitive rowing or athletics, while others occupy themselves with musical instruments and the performing arts. Mandeville Hall, which was restored in the 1990s to its former glory, presides over a well-appointed campus with modern facilities designed for the needs of today’s students, from the co-educational Early Learning Centre to Year 12.
“We have a wonderful sports centre with gymnasium and swimming pool, as well as fantastic fine arts and studio arts facilities,” says McCarty, “and we have just opened a brand new performance space, The Crescent Theatre, which will be a great venue for our performing arts students and their productions. We also have a beautiful building at the heart of campus called the Mandeville Centre, which is only two years old and recently won an award for Excellence in Educational Architecture. It houses a wonderful staff facility, a library which all of our students can use, and an exclusive study area for the Year 12 students, which they love.”
Yet what really stands out at Loreto Toorak is not the facilities or the award-winning architecture; it is the uniquely ambitious culture of the school, where teachers and students are constantly striving together in their mutual love of learning.
“I think we have an incredibly strong and supportive community here,” says McCarty, “which gives our students an important sense of confidence and belonging as they go out into the world. There’s a great staff culture in our school, and the relationship that develops between staff and students is a really positive, encouraging one. The staff work very hard – before school, after school, at weekends – and I think the students appreciate that. It’s a reciprocal energy that fosters a dynamic, thriving environment.”
Practising what they preach in the Loreto tradition, the students are keen to get involved in a number of local outreach projects, including volunteering at an after-school homework club, where they tutor recent refugee arrivals and migrant children from non-English speaking backgrounds.
“We’re also running a musical outreach programme for less privileged kids at a primary school on the other side of Melbourne,” says McCarty. “Music is a great strength at Loreto Toorak, so we send a music teacher to the school once per week and provide instruments for strings lessons. Our students collaborate with them a couple of times per year on musical performances, recitals and workshops. So it is essentially a creative partnership from which both schools are benefitting, but it’s also about forming relationships with the community and sharing the gifts we have received.”
CONNECTING WITH THE WORLD
This intrinsic generosity and drive for social inclusion reaches far beyond the school’s doorstep in the leafy suburbs of Melbourne. Determined to shape their students into conscientious citizens of the world, staff run an annual overseas trip to Vietnam, through which seniors help support schools and educational facilities in Ho Chi Minh City. Another group makes a yearly visit to Australia’s Northern Territory, where the school has developed a relationship with a remote Aboriginal community, so that students can learn more about indigenous culture and the first people of Australia.
“That’s a really important part of who we are as a school, that focus on working for justice and building right relationships with others,” says McCarty. “We want our girls to appreciate and learn how to use the gifts of the education that they have been fortunate to receive, and to share those gifts in whatever way they can.” Belonging to a tradition that is over 400 years old helps the students at Loreto Toorak understand that they are part of something much bigger than themselves. It connects them to the 180 Loreto communities all around the globe and gives them a sense of what it means to be a young woman in the world today.