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The Southern Cross : March 2012
March 2012 Page 17 www.thesoutherncross.org.au The Southern Cross The idea that we are all connected by six degrees of separation is a phenomenon being turned on its head at St Joseph's School Payneham. In its celebration of 50 years of Catholic education, the school is discovering the degree of separation between students, staff and families is much closer, as Rebecca DiGirolamo quickly realised. It's 8.45am at St Joseph's School Payneham and the roll-call is being taken. Students scribble their names across a smart board with their fingertips. Class begins and the tinkering of keys can be heard across a class full of laptops and iPads. Fifty years earlier and students' names were checked across a chalkboard, the individual wooden desks neatly aligned row by row facing the school's very first teacher -- a nun from the Sisters of St Joseph. "There have been huge changes in the physical space of the school, in resources and digital technologies," says principal Laurie Sammut. "But the community relationships are the same." As the school's leaders begin to sift through old photos, time capsules and paperwork, to celebrate the school's 50th anniversary this year, they are increasingly finding that the current school community is intrinsically linked to its past. Principal's assistant Dora Cavuoto, who was the school's first Italian teacher from 1976 to 1977 and a class teacher from 2000-08, points to a photo of the school's very first class (taken in 1966). She traces her fingers across the school's first students and recalls how many of them later sent their own children and grandchildren to the school. Angelo and Lou Fantasia are among the faces. The brothers recall parish priest Father Kelly knocking on their door in 1961 recruiting local students for the new parish school. "My first teacher and Principal at St Joseph's School Payneham was Sister David -- a lovely and compassionate person who made it a pleasure to come to school," says Angelo, who went on to serve as president of the P&F and chairman of the school board for over eight years. He recalls walking to school, warm milk for recess, and on Friday afternoons helping the nuns convert the classrooms to a church for weekend services. Angelo's mother served on the Mother's Club and at the tuck shop and his father helped around the school and parish. Angelo's children Anthony, Christopher and Rebecca attended the school and his wife Nina taught there for 11 years. His niece, Sara Fantasia (daughter of past student Lou) is also an old scholar and is currently teaching Year One and Two at the school. Sara was a student (along with her brothers, father, cousins, aunts and uncles) at the school from 1990-97. "The connection between past and present for me is very important," says Sara. "I have been a part of the community since I was born, as Payneham is also my parish," she says. "I still keep in contact with many of my friends from school and I do see them as many of them are still a part of the (school) community." St Joseph's Payneham is a relatively young school. It opened in 1962 and was headed by the Sisters of St Joseph, who until 1983 remained as stewards of the parish school. Sister David was the first principal and in the first year of the school's history, she helped teach 42 students of predominantly post World War II Italian migrants from Years One to Three in four adjoining classrooms on Portrush Rd. The school's first lay principal Nicky Milte, from 1985 to 1994, says: "I still feel I belong 18 years after leaving. It really is a community in every sense of what I think that means: it's a very welcoming, happy place...where people work and grow together, ... (and) where everyone feels they belong and can contribute." Today, there are more than 400 students representing 18 different nationalities from pre-school to Year 7. There are 15 classrooms (six with their own IT pods). Over the past 10 years, about $6 million has been spent on buildings, including new classrooms, resource centre, an IT suite, playgrounds and parking. There are four specialist teachers among 40 staff, some of whom have themselves been students at the school or have sent their children to the school. Key literacy teacher and special education co-ordinator Marie Polvere has been working at St Joseph's Payneham since 1988. Her children Nicholas and Victoria attended the school. "What is beautiful about this school is that it makes everyone feel valued and worthwhile -- everyone has something to contribute," says Mrs Polvere. Last month, as part of the school's anniversary celebration, her son Nicholas and old scholar Andy Ngothai returned to the school to excavate time capsules they had buried beneath a statue of Mother Mary 10 years ago. The 19 year old university students were amazed to unravel the prophetic letters they had penned in 2002 as nine-year- olds. Nicholas wrote of hoping to remain best friends with his mate Andy -- and they are. And Andy wrote of wanting to become a doctor -- he is currently studying medicine. "It was lovely seeing the reaction on their faces and reading their dreams of the future and how they saw themselves in ten years time," says Mr Sammut. "I think it shows a real sense of community and that we are friends for life," he says. For information on the 50th anniversary celebration of St Joseph's School Payneham phone 8362 2153. BRIGHT FUTURE: St Joseph's School Payneham principal Laurie Sammut in one of the school's new classrooms. It's a small world ABOVE: First class -1966 -- first students to start at the school, established in 1962, in the earliest classrooms. Angelo Fantasia (third row, far-right) and his brother Luigi (last row, boy to left). RIGHT: Former students and class mates of St Joseph's School Nicholas Polvere (back) and Andy Ngothai returned to the school to unearth a time capsule they buried 10 years ago. feature |