South Melbourne Vertical Primary School THE ONLY WAY IS UP
The $40m South Melbourne Primary school, the city’s first public vertical school, opened in Term 1 this year to cater for the demands of a growing population.
SOUTH Melbourne Primary School Principal Noel Creece said the demand for a new school in an incredibly dense urban area led to the decision to build up, not out.
“Fisherman’s Bend (urban renewal project) is on our doorstep which is going to be developed for 100,000 people,” he said.
“So we are that experiment – will a high rise school work in an area which is being regenerated from an old industrial area into a thriving new urban center?
“We are a Government school sharing the space with maternal child health and community spaces, so the physical footprint of the school isn’t large. This means we have to be adaptive in how we use the available space.”
The school has been designed to be a functional part of the community.
For example, the front forecourt of the school is a welcoming community space. This also means there are no fences, and with a tram stop 20m away, Mr Creece and his staff needed to be creative to tackle the issue of children playing outside.
“We have a gradual lease of responsibility to all of the spaces; kids have to prove they can operate in the enclosed space before they get the chance to go outside,” he said.
“The analogy that I tell parents is that we don’t make cars safe by taking cars off the road. We make them safe by putting zebra crossings in, ensuring that we’ve got the latest technologies, ensuring that we teach kids how to cross the road.”
The school’s large indoor sports court is shared with the community, something Mr Creece believes is an opportunity to engage with children and youth after they’ve finished school.
The maternal child health centre is another opportunity to engage students and children in their formative years before school starts.
“I plan on having an engagement with parents and children from when they finish maternal child health, say 12 months old,” Mr Creece said.
This engagement includes the 30 Million Words initiative, which believes 30 million words is the gap between fortunate and less fortunate children learning abilities by the age of 3 – a gap that can have profound impacts on literacy and learning later in life.
The initiative aims to recruit parents to speak 30 million words to their young children, building their vocabulary, developmental abilities, and social-emotional skills before they even start school.
Parents are encouraged to read to and with their children, start stimulating discussions, picture chats, read multi-lingual books and ensure their child interacts with other children to close the gap between children born in fortunate and less fortunate circumstances.
“We don’t see these children between the ages of 2-4 so the idea is for parents to go beyond functional talk with their children and help develop their literacy and linguistics at this important developmental stage in life,” Mr Creece said.
The school will also engage with young families through parent groups, a community library and play spaces as well as kindergarten where kids begin their formal education.
From ages 5 to 12, students are able to participate in after-school and community activities and post school are welcome back into the community facilities for sporting tournaments and a range of community activities in the space.
Not only are there educational benefits to being part of a community hub, the school is also perfectly placed to form connections with local industry with St Kilda beach, the aquarium, art centres and museums, as well as creative industries close by.
“We’ve deliberately gone down the line of STEAM, music and performing arts specialisations,” Mr Creece said.
“Right next door we’ve got a community centre which is willing to give us free use of their facility, including a 1000 seat auditorium with state-of-the-art sound and video systems,” Mr Creece said.
“They’re also willing to donate the expertise of their people, who will give us a hand on productions, expos, and hosting challenges and competitions inside that space with other schools around the State.”
“Fisherman’s Bend is on our door step and that’s going to be developed for 100,000 people. So we are that experiment – will a high rise school work in an area which is being regenerated from an old industrial area into a thriving new urban centre?”
The school opened in Term 1 of this year.