Great outdoors a rich opportunity

DANIEL Short loves his job and the secluded beauty of its location. His commitment to teaching would eclipse many of his peers.
Nanjing Night Net

Short lives at Methodist Ladies College’s country campus, Marshmead, with his wife and baby son.

He shares meals with the year 9 students several nights a week and lives in a cabin nearby the student accommodation.

”If you come in to working at Marshmead wanting all those luxuries you have in a city – restaurants, theatres, coffee shops – we just don’t have that,” he says.

Short relishes the remote spot tucked into a valley just a short boat ride from the coastal town of Mallacoota on the border of New South Wales.

He admits he occasionally craves wider social contact or to join a local sports club.

”I feel like that is replaced by the interaction and relationship you inevitably develop with your students,” he says. ”Here you’re having meals with them. You’re inspecting their houses. If they’re having a really bad day, you’re out there supporting them.”

Short grew up in Wyoming in the United States. Mountain bike riding and skiing competitions were part of the yearly routine.

Working at Marshmead with his wife, who also works at the campus, allows him to continue living in ”beautiful, inspiring” places.

MLC runs a small farm on Marshmead where students care for the livestock and grow much of their own vegetables and herbs. In the classroom, students study agricultural topics such as food miles.

MLC director of remote sites Mark Gray says many teachers would struggle with the professional expectations at Marshmead. Some teachers have been unhappy living and working so close to the students.

”We have had experiences in the past where staff have come down and found it quite isolating. That can be really challenging,” he says. ”This environment for staff is pretty intense. You become totally immersed in what’s going on here.”

The campus was designed according to environmentally sustainable principles. Solar panels feed electricity to the cabins and students can monitor and record their energy use. They also chop wood for potbelly heaters in the cabins.

Gray says the teachers must ”walk the talk” and build environmental awareness into their daily lives if they expect students to do the same.

”If staff aren’t monitoring their power and water like the students are, it wouldn’t work.”

MLC has recently completed an $8 million upgrade at Marshmead. It now has hundreds of solar panels, a new water harvesting system, staffroom and hayshed. The school also operates another remote campus, Banksia, at the Gippsland Lakes near Paynesville.

MLC belongs to a group of elite private schools that own country campuses. Geelong Grammar started the trend in the 1950s with Timbertop. Several other schools, including Lauriston Girls School, Wesley College and Caulfield Grammar School also have regional sites.

State school Princes Hill Secondary College manages a campsite on behalf of the Education Department near Mount Buller. Princes Hill hires out the site to other schools and the public.

But private school country campuses can also be divisive. Monash University senior lecturer David Zyngier says it is unfair for rich independent schools to build regional campuses while state school students are learning in substandard facilities. ”For every Marshmead and Timbertop, there’s another poor high school that doesn’t have heating and decent toilets, and that’s quite criminal really,” he says.

Dr Zyngier believes many struggling parents cannot afford to pay for a day-long excursion for their children, let alone months away at lavish country campuses. Teachers at schools in disadvantaged communities often pay from their own pockets for students’ excursions, he says. ”It’s actually quite common and very sad.”

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.