Frances Primary: the little school doing big things

There are many things that define Frances Primary. Community, resilience, creativity, and respect for history. 

The school was established in 1888. For 130 years it has been a place for students near the border to get an education which is just as good, if not better, than at one of the bigger schools.

September 7 was the school’s Open Day, where local government representatives such as Mayor Erika Vickery and kindy directors in the Wrattonbully Partnership could tour the classrooms and Early Learning Centre.

The Wrattonbully Partnership, principal Cathie Biggins explained, is a collective of educational centres that are located between Padthaway, Lucindale, Naracoorte and Frances. The educational centres within the partnership are funded together and work together to upskill staff.

But the key reason for the Open Day is so that parents and guardians can observe what makes Frances Primary a special place for their child to be.

“An invitation has been extended to the community to see what the school is doing,” Mrs Biggins said.

“And there are wonderful things about this unique, small site. We get great test results.”

Out in the sunshine, a bunch of students were laying on the grass with their textbooks out, listening to a teacher go through the lesson. 

“Our classrooms seem casual, but there’s some serious learning going on!”

There are two classrooms which contain a junior class and a senior class. The junior class is for Reception to Year Three, and the seniors are Year Four to Year Seven. Each year level gets the appropriate level of education as the students gain valuable social skills.

“The students have a great bond,” Mrs Biggins said. “There are only two classrooms, but they’re one big family.”

The tour of the school is conducted by student governing council members Mackenzee Chenhall (Secretary) and Lucy Koch (Treasurer). At the beginning of the tour, there are two landmarks that acknowledge France Primary’s long history. A plaque that was established to commemorate the school’s 125th anniversary, and a replica of the original school bell, which is still ringing to this day.

Other developments are a professional-grade sports court where students can play basketball, netball, and tennis. There are two playgrounds, and a ‘spinny whizzy’ which was built by local labourers.

There’s also a cubby house, which some of the younger kids use as a ‘secret hideout’.

“Which isn’t so secret,” the guides giggled.

At one of the playgrounds there are parents supervising toddlers on the equipment, and babies sitting in donut seats, calmly gazing at the activity.

The playground is next to a building known as the Play Centre, something which Frances Primary takes significant pride in. The Centre has been around for more than a decade, and functions as a vital social and educational hub.

“The Play Centre is an ideal place to engage and attract students,” Mrs Biggins said. 

“It’s popular – we have 20 students on the books, and ideally those students will continue on at the school.”

Teshia Wilkinson is the Acting Coordinator of the Play Centre, and explained more about the Early Learning Program. It was for Receptions to Year Ones, and combined education with fun activities.

The Play Centre was also for younger children, who were also entertained with activities that combined learning with creativity. For parents, it was an opportunity to socialise. 

Frances Primary caters to many parents who live on remote properties. Or they may come from small towns such as Minimay. By being able to meet together at the school, it means that families grow up together.

The kitchen has facilities for coffee, and on the morning of the tour the students had made baked goods. The building that houses the kitchen also functions as the school’s home economics class, and beyond a divider is a library.

There are restrooms for the younger students, and for senior students. An area that used to be barren has been renovated with seats which, like the spinny whizzy, were built by locals.

On a wall there are designs that the students have created for a new garden. The whole school learns French as a second language, and on the morning tour the junior class was hard at work learning maths under the supervision of Hannah Clothier. The senior class was learning English with Carla Wallis, focusing on grammar. 

On Fridays Tony Hill from the Naracoorte High School visits, teaching ICT (information communication technology).

All of the students are polite and friendly to visitors, their interactions ranging from a shy hello to a quick conversation before they’re back on task. The student governing council are currently raising money for football goal posts.

The Frances Primary school will be holding a School Fete at the end of Term Three. There will be a food court and sideshow, run by the senior students. As well as being good fun, the students will be completing their Business and Economics unit.

“It’s a fete for the whole community,” Mrs Biggins said.