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March 2015


Parent Talk | Term 1 2015

Dear Parents & Friends,

Welcome to the latest issue of Parent Talk, our termly newsletter for Catholic school parents. At the CCSP we believe a faith-based education is very much a partnership between parents, educators, the parish and the broader community. Supporting parents in their student's learning process is vital to this partnership.

With this in mind, in this issue, we look at an innovative pilot program, the first of its kind in Australia, bringing new hope to students with learning difficulties and their families. We also tackle the tricky subject of sports parents behaving badly and on a brighter note, two Catholic mums, at different stages in their children’s education journey, share their experiences.

Linda McNeil
Acting Executive Director


There are certain things that bind us all together as parents. We all want the best for our children, we love them unconditionally, we want them to flourish at school, to know the difference between right and wrong and most of all - we want them to be happy. So imagine the frustration and anguish for those parents whose teenager, despite being of average to above average intelligence has a learning disorder that can make it difficult to understand even the most basic instructions. This teen might not be able to tell the time, read fluently or grasp simple concepts. Instead of thriving at school this student is doing the opposite; struggling to keep up in the classroom, falling behind academically and often becoming anxious, withdrawn and angry. Searching for ways to constantly support this student’s learning and keep him or her happy and engaged at school can result in years of heartache for this student’s family.

However, a decision by the Sydney Catholic Education Office (CEO) to conduct a trial of the ground-breaking Arrowsmith program at Casimir College, Marrickville has brought new hope for a group of 20 such teenagers and their families. Developed in 1978 by Canadian Barbara Arrowsmith-Young, the “brain-training” program involves a series of repetitive cognitive exercises designed to challenge the underperforming parts of the brain and re-wire the way it processes information. The 20 teenagers who took part in the Casimir College pilot were all assessed as having a combination of some of the 19 identified learning dysfunctions that the Arrowsmith program addresses.

While the program does not offer a quick fix (nor is it designed for students with severe intellectual, cognitive, emotional or behavioural disorders, acquired brain injury or an autism spectrum disorder), the outcomes from the Casimir trial, after just two years, have been described as “simply amazing”. Dr Kate O’Brien, Assistant Director of Teaching & Learning at the Sydney CEO, says she has been blown away by the program’s success.

“When I talk to the kids in the program my heart skips. These kids know that they are smart, but they have never been able to break the barrier in their brain to be smart. And now they can. One of the students in the program recently came first in a section of Year 10 English. This is a girl who couldn’t even read fluently when she came to Arrowsmith, she couldn’t understand movies, she couldn’t read a book and grasp who the characters were, she couldn’t understand the plot or the relationships between people.”

For Sydney mother, Kathy Liew, whose 16-year old son Quentin spent 12 months in the pilot program last year, the change in her son has been remarkable.

“He’s a different child now,” Kathy says.

“Before he was a pretty angry aggressive boy. It was very stressful for the whole family. Going to psychologists, always trying to manage his anger, lots of issues at school with his behaviour. It was always fraught with tension. After only 12 months in the program he has returned to his old school. He seems to be embracing study, he can understand his lessons and he doesn’t feel like he is falling behind. He’s a happy child now, and this means a lot more to me than anything. I’ve spoken to a couple of parents from the pilot and their stories were just the same. What the children couldn’t do and what they can do now, they are just so ecstatic it works, ” she says.

The downside is the students in the Arrowsmith program are not eligible for any special needs funding, which means it costs parents $8000 per year for their child to be part of the pilot. However, such is the success of the pilot, the Sydney CEO has recently started a new program for 22 primary school students at Holy Innocents Catholic Primary School, Croydon.

For Kathy Liew, this means her year six daughter also has the opportunity to participate in the Arrowsmith program.

“I wouldn’t be spending up to four hours a day driving my daughter to and from school if I didn’t think it was worth it. We say to our children that your inheritance is your schooling. No one can take an education away from you and I think every child has the right to be given an education that meets their needs.” Kathy says.

When the Sydney CEO began the Arrowsmith trial in 2013, it was the first of its kind in Australia. Two years on, several schools in Victoria and Queensland are now running an Arrowsmith program along with an independent school in Wollongong. Dr O’Brien says the Sydney CEO is now looking at a part-time program, which would be run “after school”. In the meantime, she says she is excited about the possibilities for the students in the current program and would love to see it extended to other Catholic schools in NSW.


Every week, around Australia approximately 1.8 million children take part in an organised sport or physical activity outside of school hours. That’s around 62% of all children aged between five and 15 years. There’s no doubt that playing sport has many benefits for children. As well as being a great way for kids to develop confidence in a safe and supportive learning environment, sport can boost a child’s self-esteem and mental alertness and improve their classroom learning.

That’s the positive side of sport. Sadly, there wouldn’t be many people who haven’t witnessed parents behaving badly at a junior sporting event. Even the sanest, most rational parents have been known to lose it at their child’s game. And there’s no shortage of media stories about the nightmare sports parent, ranging from parents being red-carded for verbal abuse (including English soccer dad David Beckham) to slanging matches between spectators escalating into fist fights. Appalling sideline behaviour combined with an overemphasis on winning has left its mark on junior sport.

Fortunately, our clubs, schools and sporting associations are doing all they can to eliminate this problem. Back in 2006, the Australian Sports Commission (ASC) developed a code of conduct for junior sport with specific guidelines for players, spectators, coaches and parents. Many clubs have since adopted this code, promoting it on their websites, at registration and even at sporting grounds and facilities.

The reality, say experts, is that a parent’s behaviour can have a profound impact on a child’s participation in and attitude towards sport. And we’re not just talking about the stereotypical nightmare parent on the sideline. Even the most well-intentioned parent can, without realising it, make sport a miserable experience for their child.

This message was hammered home when, in an informal survey lasting over three decades in the United States, hundreds of college athletes were asked what was their worst memory from playing youth or high school sport. The overwhelming answer was “the ride home in the car”.

Those same college athletes, many of whom went on to become professional athletes, were asked what their parents said that made them feel great, that amplified their joy during and after a game. Their overwhelming response was six simple words: “I love to watch you play.”

Bruce E Brown and Rob Miller, the two coaches who undertook the survey, say that in the moments after the game, win or lose, kids desire distance. They make a rapid transition from athlete back to child. And they’d prefer if parents transitioned from spectator back to mum or dad, ASAP. Their advice is to forget about the instructional feedback, the post-game analysis or comments that undermine the coach, officials or other teammates.

As Bruce E Brown says, “let the child bring the game to you if they want to.”

According to Rob Miller, sports is one of few places in a child’s life where a parent can say, “This is your thing”.

“It is one of the best ways for young people to take risks and deal with failure because the consequences aren’t fatal, they aren’t permanent. Once you as a parent are assured the team is a safe environment, release your child to the coach and to the game. That way all successes are theirs, all failures are theirs.”

Want to give your kids a sporting chance to enjoy the game… here’s some handy tips from Australian parenting expert and author, Michael Grose.


There are many milestones in the school journey for both the parent and the child. But none are more memorable and bittersweet than the first day of kindergarten and the final day of year 12. Two mothers, Kelly Humphrey and Merindah Wilson, good friends and work colleagues, at opposite ends of their children’s school journey, share their stories. In their words, “a yarn about our kids and their experiences in Catholic education”.

Kelly’s Story

I am a Gamilaroi woman, living and working in Wagga Wagga. On February 5, 2015, my daughter Eve and I walked through the school gates at St Joseph’s Wagga Wagga for her first official day of primary school. Excited and full of wonder, she held my hand and proudly showed me her classroom. Having worked in Catholic education myself for the past 10 years, I was excited for Eve to experience all of the wonders, challenges and rewards that education can bring. For Eve, I pray her dreams are supported, her spirit is fostered, her culture flourishes and her learning thrives over the next 13 years.

Eve’s sister Livia will start school in two years time. I know their combined 28 years of Catholic education will pass too quickly. Throughout this time we will seek a positive partnership in our daughters’ education. An education that develops their spirituality, fosters their faith, and provides many happy memories for them in the future. I looked to my good friend and colleague Merindah Wilson for support and guidance as I helped Eve make the transition to school. Merindah has made the past years of her children’s education look so easy. Throughout their educational journey, her two talented children have made and continue to make her and her family and community very proud.

Merindah’s Story

I too am a Gamilaroi woman, originally from Walgett but now working and residing in Forbes. On the last day of term three, 2014, I was proudly sitting at the Year 12 assembly at Red Bend Catholic College in Forbes watching my daughter Lakkari Pitt complete her school life. As I reflected on Lakkari’s educational journey, which consisted of three Catholic schools, I was and continue to be grateful for the opportunities a Catholic education has provided to her. Catholic schools have given Lakkari and her brother Leslie, the opportunity to develop culturally, spiritually and academically. I have clocked up 26 years of Catholic education between my two children and believe they both have the building blocks to continue into their chosen careers. Leslie is a PE Teacher in Sydney and Lakkari is embarking on a three year Bachelor of Aboriginal Professional Practice degree through the University of Newcastle. Lakkari was able to pursue this university course because Red Bend College, facilitated by the Lismore Diocese, gave her the opportunity to study Aboriginal Studies online for her HSC.

As my children navigate university life I want them to know that they are brave, curious and that as long as their heart tells them they are on the right path and their intuition tells them that they are doing the right thing, to never look back. They have grown wings. I want them to fly, soar, and succeed!

As they say, as one door closes another opens.

The advice I gave to Kelly, my friend and colleague, is the advice I would give to all embarking on a school journey with their child:

  • Be your child’s first role model - be involved in school
  • Be a leader in your school to help promote and acknowledge your culture
  • Seek a partnership in learning with your school
  • Have a hot cuppa with a good friend regularly and share your experiences.


Check out the latest CCSP resources developed to support Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) children, parents and carers.

Has your primary school registered to apply for the first round of sporting grants available through the Australian Government’s $100 million Sporting Schools Program ?

The countdown to World Youth Day Krakow 2016 begins on Palm Sunday this year. Find out more on the newly launched WYD website.




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