I watched in awe last week, as a lifeguard at the pool where I was exercising dived in fully clothed and swam the length of the pool to save a small child. Nobody had noticed the little boy was drowning. He was at the stage of floating bolt upright with scared looking eyes and slowly moving arms, but nothing was happening – he was out of his depth and unable to swim.

His parents were sitting at the edge of the pool and seemed to be new to Australia; they evidently hadn’t been closely watching the little boy who also seemed to be new to the water. And although I had always thought that drowning would be a loud, thrashing affair, I’d learnt that this was not the case some years ago, when I had to hoick a small child having difficulties out of my own pool. As a parent, I can tell you that this sort of incident and what could result leaves a sick feeling in your stomach.

As a school principal, risk is often in my mind. It’s a bit like having to worry about 410 children rather than just your own two. Risk mitigation doesn’t mean that you never do anything with a risk attached (or we’d just stay at home in bed all day) – it means that you think about what sensible precautions you can take to make an activity appropriately safe. Going swimming is risky but has many benefits; it’s therefore important that children growing up in Western Australia can swim. There are many things we do at AVѧԺ to mitigate risk for our students. A lot of these things (such as the forms required to run an excursion for students) aren’t very exciting and they inevitably involve a lot of paperwork for teachers, but we do them because it reduces the risk. It means that the person running the trip or camp or excursion has thought through the possible risks and worked out how best to mitigate them.

An excellent example of how we educate our own students to learn to consider risk is the PARTY program (Prevent Alcohol and Risk-related Trauma in Youth) run by Royal Perth Hospital. Every year, Mr Quelch fills in the necessary risk management paperwork and organises an excursion for our senior students to learn about the injuries and trauma that can result from risky behaviours. You can read more about the program . I mention it this week because, as our students attend the program, we move into a period of school holiday where our students encounter all sorts of risks. As a school, this excursion is something we arrange because we know it’s the sort of education that can change the course of people’s lives. It’s something for which we need parental support to ensure that attendance is 100% and that the students have the opportunity to learn these vital lessons, rather than clocking off for the break early and missing out. There can’t be anything much more important than assisting our children to learn to recognise potentially harmful situations and to make informed choices in their lives. Students returning from Royal Perth Hospital think differently – I have seen this over the years – it is a learning experience not to be missed.

I hope that you have a thoroughly enjoyable time with your children during the break from school. I hope they relax, switch off their devices, read a book or two, spend some time outside in nature and take only calculated risks.

Shabbat shalom.


Dr Julie Harris