PLC Armidale has been providing opportunities to families since its inception in 1887. This year sees a new era of boarding leadership and operation at PLC Armidale … enter Mrs Alison Spencer. Alison is not your ordinary mum. In fact, you could say that as the new Head of Boarding of PLC Armidale, the former Occupational Therapist has instantly become a “professional parent“ and surrogate mum (spare a thought for Alison this Mother’s Day) to the growing number of both domestic and international girls, as well as to her own four daughters.
Alison, what is your vision for your new role as Head of Boarding at PLC Armidale?
Boarding is really an extension of living at home, so my plan is to offer a genuine homely experience and continue to build a strong and vibrant boarding family, within the PLC Armidale and broader community.
Having four daughters yourself, how do you and your husband, Chris, juggle life and everyone’s commitments?
The Spencer family really is invested in PLC Armidale, with all four daughters attending the College. My husband, Chris, is also the Director of PLC Pathways, the College’s Intensive Residential English Language (ELICOS) program for international students, which commenced in 2017. Boarding at PLC really has become a family affair … Fostering an environment which encourages family values and involvement is really important to us.
Having the whole family involved brings its own economy of scale, and living on campus does blur the lines of family and college life, which can be challenging yet incredibly rewarding at the same time, and it’s great fun! Our daughters love it, and it does mean that we can take a pastoral role with the boarders more easily. The Christian ethos of the College is a really significant element for us, and being in the service of others is modelled daily to our boarders, as well as our own children.
The safe, secure and peaceful rural environment within Armidale is also a very important aspect. It also means that in reality there is greater access and opportunity for girls to be engaged and involved in more activities, such as NECOM and various sports, as well as providing a real academic advantage, with everything situated so close means more time and greater access to assistance. We also transport the girls everywhere in the boarders’ buses, which makes for busy afternoons and weekends.
What benefits and challenges does boarding provide?
Balancing the need for consistency in routines with the need to be responsive to each individual girl’s needs is a real focus. Together with our staff, we endeavour to prepare girls daily for life beyond school, where they are genuinely supported academically and socially, as well as encouraged to develop greater independence. I also approach requests for activities applying the same metric as I would scrutinise my own daughters’: ”Would I feel comfortable allowing my own daughters to see/be involved with that?”
At the end of the day, life as a boarder is what you put into it and ultimately what you get out of it. We do organise various activities, such as visits to the beach or special events (e.g. Seasons of New England recently), movies, dance classes, cooking, art and craft, to group guitar lessons. Girls can choose to be as busy or as involved as they like … or not.
What else can the boarders (or prospective) at PLC Armidale look forward to?
PLC Armidale’s bespoke boarding experience also offers diversity, not only in the cultural sense, with the increasing number of international girls and Pathways students, bringing with them different perspectives but also offers the lifelong skill of being able to get along with people from all walks of life, whether they are from China, Thailand, Glen Innes or Mungindi. Just as in any family, the girls benefit from the depth of relationships in the boarding environment, which quite often lasts a lifetime.
Boarding at PLC Armidale is as much for our Day Students as it is for our boarders, as we have a number of boarding options from a casual night here and there when the need arises, to weekly, and of course, full-time during the school term. We even have lovely appointed parent accommodation, which is used constantly by our families, as it enables parents an affordable visit, as well as the opportunity to be involved in their daughter’s life at the College.
With growing demand for places at PLC Armidale, the third Boarding House, known as Hilton, will be renovated this year, following the refurbishment of Austin Boarding House in 2017 and the recent freshening up of the Todd/McBean Boarding House and on-campus accommodation for the Head of Boarding. Boarding at PLC Armidale does have a genuine bespoke look and feel, along with practice, in more ways than one.