Meet Stafford Cameron, Principal of Duval High School and Matt McKenzie, Principal of Thalgarrah Environmental Education Centre.
How long have you been Principal of Duval High School?
I have been Principal at Duval High School since the beginning of Term 2, 2010. Just over a year, really – and still loving it.
What do you like most about the school?
What I like most about Duval, apart from the fact of simply being back in the New England again, is the attitudinal difference that sets the students here apart from their coastal cousins.
I have found the students at Duval to have a more down-to-earth, genuine attitude towards education. There is an understanding that what is offered at school is the key to success and happiness in life. The students are more aware of the opportunities which they are offered at school, are genuinely interested in being engaged in learning and leadership and just seem happier somehow.
How are you involved in the Positive Behaviour for Learning program?
Positive Behaviour for Learning is a program that aims to improve student behaviour at school by explicitly identifying, teaching and reinforcing the types of behaviour that the whole school community expects from our students. It’s not something that is simply imposed on the students – they, their families, the staff and other community members are involved in the whole process from the start.
We have already identified the key focus areas that will be at the heart of the program and are using the acronym CREST (standing for Community, Respect, Excellence, Safety, and Teamwork). Students will next discuss the key words and what they mean to them, and will also have the opportunity to design the new PBL logo, which will eventually accompany our existing School Logo on all correspondence.
The program is only beginning here at Duval, and we have a long way to go, but it promises a great benefit to the students – and that’s the most important thing.
What’s coming up?
Probably the most exciting project on our horizon is our connection to the high-speed broadband network (NBN). We believe we need to be at the cutting edge of the opportunities that this offers for education. For instance, we have been invited to join in a partnership with the University of New England, Macquarie University and Dulwich Hill High School in Sydney, which uses ‘Virtual Worlds’ technology to engage students in group learning surrounding Visual Arts and Architecture.
We had a visit from staff at the Macquarie ICT Centre this week, and I recently met with our School Education Director, Mr Philip Jones, and Mr Colin Wood of the Curriculum and Learning Innovation Centre (CLIC), who are very interested in helping Duval High School to maximise the opportunities offered by connection to the NBN.
Some proposed initiatives in which we will be involved include a Chemistry/Physics connection with leading schools in Sydney, enhanced use of technology in education between Duval High School and the Armidale Community of Schools and a project with the UNE School of Education centred on Virtual Classrooms.
However, it will only be when we are finally connected that we are able to see just what we can do, because this is a whole new ball game in terms of access to technology for rural and regional students.
When did you become the Principal at Thalgarrah Environmental Education Centre?
I started in the position at the beginning of the 2010 school year. Previously I was a teacher at Wambangalang Environmental Education Centre near Dubbo. I had been at Wambangalang for 11 years and was looking for a change and further challenges.
I thought the cold weather of Armidale may have been a major challenge, but I am now getting towards the end of my second winter, and I am coping pretty well.
How long has Thalgarrah Environmental Education Centre been around?
Thalgarrah was once a small rural school, which closed down in 1973. In 1976 it was re-opened as Thalgarrah Field Studies Centre, changing its name to Thalgarrah Environmental Education Centre in 1999.
How does Thalgarrah Environmental Education Centre operate?
Thalgarrah Environmental Education Centre is a public school and therefore overseen by the NSW Department of Education and Communities. We operate as a place for school students to visit and study environmental education and sustainability.
We have a wide variety of programs. Primary school students come out to study things such as bugs, water quality, alternative energy, native plants and animals and traditional Aboriginal culture. High school students visit Thalgarrah to complete field work that supports their work in Geography and the science subjects.
What do you like about working at Thalgarrah?
I love my job. The best part of working at Thalgarrah is being part of the excitement and enthusiasm that students bring with them to the centre. I also work with a small but hardworking and happy team of people.
How does Thalgarrah Environmental Education Centre make a difference?
I think Thalgarrah supports teachers well in providing hands-on activities that support the learning in the classroom. Learning about bugs in the classroom is great, but it takes it to another level when a student catches a water scorpion in the river or sees a spider’s face under a microscope.
At Thalgarrah we not only provide opportunities for students to learn new things in regards to living sustainably, we also provide opportunities for students to get in touch with the natural world, through spending time in the forest and by the river. We work on the premise that if they don’t love it, they won’t see a reason to look after it.
Tell us about your unique pets.
When I was living in Dubbo, I also did some work in the Education Centre of Western Plains Zoo. Here I saw the power that live animals have in engaging students in environmental education. I have for some years kept native birds and reptiles, but only recently have incorporated these, as well as pet insects, into my teaching. Bringing a Carpet Python out in the classroom always receives a reaction – sometimes excitement, sometimes fear – but everyone is soon paying attention! I have also used hand-raised parrots, Bearded Dragons, Children’s Pythons and Spiny-leaf Insects in a variety of lessons at Thalgarrah Environmental Education Centre.