Belinda Hook followed in her mother and aunts’ footsteps when she became a boarder at New England Girls’ School. Now her three children, Lucy, Lily and Georgia, are continuing the tradition. Belinda now works at her old alma mater in the role of Director of Enrolments and, she says, the future for NEGS couldn’t be brighter.
>Your mother, you and now your children all attended NEGS, it must hold a special place in the hearts of your family?My mother was educated at NEGS (along with her three sisters) and left in 1955. Many of the traditions that existed then continue today, yet Mum always marvels at the advances the school has seen whenever she returns for events and functions. In fact this is a common reaction for many of the Old Girls we encounter on their visits to the school. NEGS holds a special place in the hearts of our family. My son Ben also spent some time at St John’s Junior School and my daughters Lucy (Year 8) and Lily and Georgia (Year 5) are also at the school. We all have a common interest in the school succeeding and growing.
> What is it about the school that makes it special for you?
The school has an amazing sense of history, an aura of tradition and yet it is really contemporary in its approach to teaching and nurturing of the individual. NEGS has an intimacy that is attractive to families and it offers opportunities that bigger schools just can’t match. For example, every student is able to participate in a choir, join a sporting team and achieve at their own academic potential without intimidation and fear of ‘falling through the cracks’. A spectacular example of this is our target rifle club. It is the only girls’ team in Australia invited to compete in the GPS shooting competition and the club is open to all students. The school has always had the enormous benefits of the space and spectacular grounds that is on offer that is appreciated by both country and city students alike. I also think the lack of demarcation between day and boarding students is unique. Everyone mixes together; boarders often spend weekends at their friends’ homes and day girls have been known to have sleep overs in the boarding houses. They all share morning tea and lunch together daily in the dining hall, and play together in their various sporting teams after school and on weekends.
> What are the main changes that have occurred at NEGS since your days as a boarder?
The most obvious changes are the infrastructure. Since I left two new boarding houses have been built, with bedrooms instead of dorms. An information technology centre and computer labs have been added to the library and the NEGS Multi-Purpose Centre has been constructed. And with so many gardens and beautiful lawns, the campus really is magnificent these days. The food has definitely improved! There’s now a real emphasis on choice and nutrition. The menu is extensive and varied and you rarely hear any complaints from the students. Subject and sporting choices have also been extended and the opportunities for exchange programs, community service and membership to fabulous organisations such as Round Square and our outdoor education program which includes the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme gives the girls opportunities we never had.
> NEGS has had its ups and downs over the years. How is it doing now?
I think every school experiences its ups and downs – particularly country schools. We often fall victim to conditions out of our control such as drought, but I think sometimes we need to move out of our comfort zones and re-examine our direction to experience growth. In the last 12 months we have grown beyond our expectations and there continues to be an enormous amount of interest in the school. We have a fabulously supportive and dedicated staff under the leadership of Mark Harrison, our first male Principal, and the future looks very positive.
> What does your role as Enrolments Director at NEGS entail?
I am very fortunate to share this role with the enormously experienced and dedicated Lyn Thomson, who has been at the school in excess of 20 years. Between us we strive to showcase the school in as many arenas as possible. It involves an enormous amount of travel to shows, expos and events but the experience can be very rewarding. We try to visit as many agricultural shows as we can to help support small rural communities, as well travelling to many larger city events. Our role also involves co-ordinating scholarships, presenting the school to international students and helping to coordinate a large range of schools events.
> What are the strengths that attract parents and students to the school?
We are so fortunate to have such a beautiful campus, which gives the students the luxury of space. There is also a real sense of community and family, a strong emphasis on values and morals, and a commitment to help students build on their strengths whilst encouraging them to work on improving their weaknesses. We are also so fortunate to have one of the best school equestrian centres in Australia right here on campus, which attracts students from all over Australia as well as abroad. And I know from personal experience that the friendships formed at NEGS last for life. You only have to observe one of our Old Girls’ weekends – they just take up where they left off last time!
> NEGS has traditionally been predominantly a boarding school, is that still the case?
Typically we have been known as one of the larger girls boarding schools in Australia. However, we can now claim quite a significant growth in our day girl/boy population, almost to the point where it is 50:50. This is due to the strength of St Johns Junior School, which offers a tailored co-educational program, with boys welcomed at the school through to Year 5. This, combined with the obvious strengths of NEGS Middle and Senior Schools, has seen our student population from Armidale and the wider region undergo a real growth spurt. You only have to drive around before and after to see many children in NEGS and St John’s uniforms, and once that just wasn’t the case. I think the community has really got behind NEGS and we try to repay that by encouraging our to participate in as many community events as possible. We have also opened our gates to the community much more than in the past, with our annual Spring Fair, our invitation to join the Open Garden Scheme, and a range of events and functions at the MPC and Equestrian Centre.
> St John’s is unique for a girls’ school in that it is co-ed. How are enrolments in the junior school?
I think that by having a co-ed Junior School it keeps a healthy balance between boys and girls in the classroom, the sporting field and socially in the earlier learning years. St John’s has a small but dedicated staff under the leadership of Head Cary Roberts – a vastly experienced educator in both the independent and public systems – and numbers have increased by approximately 30 per cent in the past 12 months. St John’s offers an alternative to the traditional co-ed schools as its smaller class sizes mean all children – irrespective of academic ability – are given all the attention they need. It is also able to tap into the resources and specialist expertise of NEGS Middle and Senior Schools allowing us to offer specialist lessons such as Languages, Specialist Art, Music and PE to junior students. St John’s also has a Gifted and Talented Program as well as Extra Learning Support which we find is an attraction for many parents.
> What does the future hold for NEGS?
The future is extremely bright. Our enrolments continue to grow at an encouraging rate and I anticipate that through this steady growth the school could reach our capacity of 450-500 students in the near future.
> Thank you for your time Belinda.