Farewell to St. Helen's College by Miss Walker

Posted on: 09/07/2021

I had been putting off writing my farewell blog; I knew it would be very difficult to write as I am truly sad to be leaving a place that has meant so very much to me and my family over the past 27 years. But as I settled myself down, with a glass of wine in hand, to go down memory lane, I received the devastating news that I would have to self isolate in the final week of term. It has been completely heartbreaking not to be able to be with my school family in my final week and to say the goodbyes and thank yous I wanted to say in person to so many colleagues, parents and pupils. However, working from home this last week has given me more time to reflect on my time at St. Helen’s College and to focus on the happy memories which will fill my heart forever. 

My St. Helen’s College journey began in 1994 when I joined the school as a fresh faced graduate and new mum with a nine month old daughter to teach PE part time. Things were certainly different back then: I was the only female staff member permitted to wear trousers, in the form of a very fetching brightly coloured 1990’s shell tracksuit, and the only sports pupils played were football and cricket for boys and rounders and netball for girls. The Upper School playground was the size of one third of the existing netball court and a scaled down netball court was marked out and the rest of the outside area behind Cambria was a grassed old orchard. It took my best persuasive powers to convince Mr. and Mrs. Crehan to make the playground bigger in 2004 so that pupils could benefit from more play space and better sports facilities. When I started at the school, PE was led by Mrs. Bryant and Miss Cooper (1C teacher) and her older sister Sarah were in the Y5 and 6 netball team, so it seems fitting that I will be handing on the baton to Miss Cooper to run the Y5 and 6 netball team next year. 

I became Head of PE in 1996 and working afternoons gave me the opportunity to balance family life whilst developing my teaching career and growing a tennis coaching business alongside Mr. Stidder. In fact, Mr. Stidder has been associated with St. Helen’s College for longer than me, providing tennis coaching at the school since 1992! I continued to work part time as my family grew with the arrival of my son in 1998. Subsequently both my children joined the school in Nursery, then called Rainbows and Sunshines, and they both went through the school, taught by Mrs. Hunt, Mrs. Allery, Mrs. Belvoir and Mrs. Stark amongst others. In recent years, since graduating, my daughter has come back to work at the school from time to time too.  So I hope this gives you a sense of how my family has been so closely linked to the St. Helen’s College family over the years. 

Throughout the early 2000s I ran a successful Ofsted registered morning pre-school in The Pavillion in Court Park and many children from here progressed to join St. Helen’s College where I continued to teach them. Perhaps this was the inspiration for our very own Ducklings Kindergarten? By 2008 I was teaching full time at the school and became subject leader for geography and took on a shared form tutor role with Ms Turner. In 2010 I was invited to join the Senior Leadership Team as Director of Co-curriculum, a role I have thoroughly enjoyed. 

The school has changed immeasurably over the past 27 years, expanding to two form entry, relocating Lower School from All Saints Church to its present site, and adding a science block, art studio and refectory. The PE shed, which used to be my office too, has been moved three times! I am immensely proud of the many developments I have been responsible for introducing during my time at the school. These have included expanding the day and residential visit programme, the introduction of an overnight sleepover visit for Y3 and extending the Y5 visit from a weekend trip to a week. I have also led and encouraged outdoor learning to take place to spark pupils’ curiosity, deepen their understanding, and improve their sense of well-being. I introduced swimming to the curriculum and established more opportunities for pupils to compete with local state schools and independent schools. I am proud of developing a modern, future facing geography curriculum which encourages an awareness of the issues of climate change and develops tangible skills for pupils to build upon in the future, and of introducing an extensive co-curriculum clubs programme across a range of creative, aesthetic, sporting and academic fields. Yet it is the positive impact the progressive Heartstart first aid training programme for pupils and the School Travel Plan to make school travel safer and more active has had for pupils and their families of which I am particularly proud. Through it all, my passion and commitment has always been to make a difference and to provide the very best learning experiences and opportunities for personal development for St. Helen’s College pupils. It has given me great personal and professional satisfaction to see so many pupils grow and develop into confident young people, ready to face new challenges with integrity. It is lovely that so many of our alumni keep in touch and just last week in Court Park I bumped into no fewer than four St. Helen’s College old boys and girls and their families! Hearing about their achievements and sharing their memories about their time at St. Helen’s College makes my heart swell with a great sense of pride to know I have been part of their journey in life. 

This place has been such a wonderful and inspiring place for pupils to learn and for me to work. It has been my enormous pleasure to lead a variety of initiatives which highlighted and communicated what a unique and special place it was and raised the profile of the school locally and nationally. Achieving the Gold TfL STARs Award, the School Games Platinum Award and reaching the finals of the 2020 TES Independent Schools Awards in not just one but two categories: ‘Student Initiative of the Year’ and ‘Sport, Health and Wellbeing’ were notable moments. Yet I think being runner up in 2013 for the Pearson Teacher of the Year Award stands out as something special. The initial nomination was made by the then Head Girl, Emily Hannis, and the subsequent kind and heartfelt supporting statements submitted for the award by many pupils, parents, alumni and principals is something that I will always cherish. 

I have taught thousands of St. Helen’s College pupils, including three Crehan children, my own and other staff members' children and many families - brothers, sisters and cousins, over the years and I have befriended pupils and parents alike. I am grateful for the support and kindness parents have shown me and I feel very lucky to have had the opportunity to serve this wonderful community as a teacher and member of the Senior Leadership Team. I have met the most fantastic people here and I am forever changed by my inspiring and compassionate colleagues, with whom I have enjoyed close working relationships and friendships over the years. Thank you too to the incredible pupils I have had the pleasure of teaching. I hope I have made a difference in many of their lives, just as they have irrevocably changed mine.  

I have been blessed to be part of a strong school community at St. Helen’s College and I look forward to becoming a member of, and contributing to, another school community in this way. I look forward to the opportunities that await me both professionally and personally at High March School. It is not a coincidence this is a school with a similar history and heritage to St. Helen’s College, with a family ethos and with the values of friendship and kindness at its core. I will truly miss the amazing colleagues, pupils and parents I have been fortunate to know. I am honoured to have received the opportunity to grow personally and develop my career amid such talent and brilliance. 

So as the sun goes down on my time here and I say farewell, I hope in some small way I will be leaving my footprints at St. Helen’s College. I will always remember my life at St. Helen’s College fondly and, just as the school song says, this school is ‘my second family’ and it is ‘my heart’. I will be forever connected to this community for that reason.

Miss Walker