Caring When it Matters

This article was published in the YouthCARE newsletter 'Connect'. YouthCARE is the employing body for State School Chaplains in Western Australia, including Mount Lawley Senior High School's Chaplain, Andrew Paul. It is republished with permission.

When a School Community is Hurting

Barely two months after the Mount Lawley Primary School community gathered to commemorate its centenary, the school was once again united - this time, reeling in shock. Eighty five per cent of their historical landmark was gutted by a fire, deliberately lit, during the first weekend of the winter holidays. YouthCARE school chaplains Andrew Paul and Domenica Carbone were there to provide pastoral care and support to a hurting community.

Mount Lawley Primary School principal Mr Don Barba says the fire was one of the most 'gut-wrenching' things he had ever experienced. "We lost a lot of resources. We lost a lot of tangible things. We lost a lot of memories that our students had to grieve over. But the one thing we didn't lose that night was our community. Andrew and Domenica played an important role as post-fire events unfolded."

Andrew Paul fulfilled many roles during this time - parent and member of the school council, neighbouring school chaplain (he has been a YouthCARE school chaplain at Mount Lawley Senior High School for 21 years) and most importantly, as a Pastoral Critical Incident Response (PCIR ) chaplain.

He was deployed by the Department of Education, on request of the school, as a PCIR chaplain within days of the incident. Being onsite for various debriefing and planning meetings, he worked alongside psychologists, providing pastoral care to students, parents and teachers.

Later, with the school holidays drawing to a close and Andrew required to return to his in-school chaplaincy position at the senior high school, YouthCARE provided Mount Lawley Primary with another avenue of support - support chaplaincy.

Experienced chaplain, Domenica Carbone was mobilised. "As the school doesn't have an in-school chaplain, my role as Support Chaplain focused on providing pastoral care to the students, parents and teachers as they returned to school and began to deal with what had happened and what the next few terms would look like," Domenica said. She forged close relationships with the children, their parents and teachers who needed extra support, through regular visits throughout term 3.

Mr Barba says Andrew and Domenica played a 'significant role' in helping and assisting the school community to come to terms with the sad loss of their centenary old school site.

"They were there to provide support to all. They became a vital link as part of our support team personnel ensuring that staff, students, administration and parents were provided with all the support they required as we came to terms with our loss and ventured into a new school site."

Finding new classrooms for close to 500 students was no easy task. When the construction of temporary classrooms on the soccer oval of the adjacent Mount Lawley Senior High School commenced, Andrew took daily video clips of the building process and loaded it to Vimeo. He also worked with Mr Barba to place updates and communiqués on the school's website and the centenary celebrations' Facebook page.

"We wanted to focus on the positive, the new, not the negative - the school burning down. These clips helped us to be future focused, giving people hope and creating a sense of excitement," Andrew said.

Glynis Goodman-Jones, a CRE convenor who has been teaching CRE at the school for eight years, said it was 'amazing' to see how the community united and worked together to ensure the timely completion and furnishing of the portable classrooms before the new term commenced.

"We could continue with our CRE classes without disruption. The kids had so much resilience - they were so excited about their new home and very comfortable to share their personal experiences about what happened. They are really a wonderful bunch to teach," she said.

Mr Barba says the YouthCARE staff members' time and energy is something that he and the community will always remember and be grateful for. "Dom, ever present, assisted with staff and parents to ensure that the next phase in their journey became a positive experience for all. Andrew went beyond what anyone would have expected. The loss of a building is hard to understand and to come to terms with. However, the community gained so many positives out a very negative event. They witnessed themselves, the power of people, in believing and achieving our mantra - Together We Can."

· The State Government recently announced that it will allocate an extra $2m to restore the historic facade of the school when it is rebuilt. The new school will cost $12.5m and is expected to be completed in early 2015.

Karen Coetzee
YouthCARE Communications Officer
PHONE: 93765000