This of course is not your average 'How is school going?' question. This is not a question about whether her marks are ok and whether she has made any progress towards her preference for career or post school studies......
No, this question refers directly to the 'trouble' of 2010.
In December we were finally told of prospective numbers for the new year; about 120, including the Early Learning (preschool) Centre. The BA's year group was sitting on 13.
Thirteen students. Down from sixty.
All her friends had gone, the last one's mother begging me to forgive her as we met in the foyer at Speech Night.
Part way through the holidays it became evident, through facebook, that this number was dwindling, excuses masquerading as reasons slipping easily into the cyber void; silent rats stepping off the ropes into the inky fathoms, under cover of darkness. As orientation day dawned, we wondered how many would be left.
Eight mismatched souls, each present for their own reasons, randomly selected from the lost jigsaw of the whole and representing completely different sections of the original picture. What would become of them?
The first day was ugly in the extreme.
The BA cried; she feared the ignominy of being seen in the uniform of the 'failed school'; she pined for her friends at their new schools without her; she cringed at the makeshift nature of everything and the travesty of traditions enacted in hollow, empty places. She texted me throughout the day: "Mum, this is SO AWKWARD. Everything seems so LAME!"
Malicious people spread poison through the cyber networks: the school would not last two weeks; the school was only planning to be open for a term.....
But the first day passed.
Life has settled into a routine. Classes are tiny but individual and relationships with teachers are, by necessity, closer and more personal. As the months pass, the replacement of the canteen by a vending machine and the annexing of whole wings of the school by carefully placed panels have become the norm. The cheap, lime green, plastic covered school diaries, which replaced the handsome maroon and white (with school crest) version , have been personalised and made 'real' by use; the multi year level sports teams have begun to win a few games at interschool meets and the Parent Committee has reformed itself into a familiar, if 'bijou' structure, stoically ready to tackle the traditional fundraising tasks of the academic year.
Of course this doesn't mean there aren't challenges. At a recent outing, the Year 11s (eight of them remember) went to the Entertainment Centre to see a presentation on Drink Driving. At the beginning of the session the DJ styled MC called into the microphone:
"Let's hear you give up some love for your school!!!! Where are you St Overindulged School?"
(Roars, screams and cheers from the pupils)
"What about Highly Priced Grammar?"
(further roars, cheers and screams from a different part of the auditorium)
"And Alma Mater Ladies College???"
(deathly hush as the 8 mortified ladies sink lower into their seats..........)
But small can be beautiful. Two weeks ago the school held its annual Sports Day, usually a huge school event at a local Athletics Stadium. Reduced numbers has forced the staff to think creatively. Instead of the myriad individual athletics events; shotput, javelin, long jump etc, the hard working sports mistress organised an amazing smorgasbord of tableau sports in the school grounds, suitable for all age groups.
Of course the House system was in full operation. Seniors helped juniors and everyone cheered each other on through the range of events. There was Tunnel Ball, Over the Legs, hurdles, sprints, Tug of War and even an 'Early Morning Race' for the Parents!
Everyone you speak to raved about the day. It had been a total delight. From that place of fear where everyone had worried that smaller numbers would mean a 'flat' carnival, there was instead a swell of pride and the knowledge that for the very first time in decades every girl had participated in some way. Indeed, one observer commented that the strength of community spirit present should have been 'bottled and offered to other schools'!!
When I asked her about it later, the BA thought briefly and pronounced, with some surprise, "You know, I actually had a really nice day!
There's she is as a House senior, middle left. Our House won the day!
Oh, and she made a little friend too. I think this photograph sums everything up.
I am so proud of my Alma Mater right now. I only hope that a fiscally realistic way forward can be hammered out by the new school board so that the strengths of this school; the core values of decency, integrity, loyalty and community can be available for the coming generations.