It is with a heavy heart that Somerville House farewells Head of Junior School, Mrs Arna Bennett, who will this year retire from her role of twenty-seven years at the end of Term 4. A distinguished member of the School, throughout her illustrious teaching career at Somerville House, Mrs Bennett has worked with four different Principals as well as been instrumental in the oversight, development and opening of many capital works projects at the campus.
Commencing at Somerville House in January 1993, arriving from Wellington in New Zealand, where she was employed on the Senior Management team at Queen Margaret College, Mrs Arna Bennett became Head of Junior School, following the retirement of Miss Aileen Godfrey. Recounting her journey to becoming Head of Junior School, Mrs Bennett said as soon as she arrived on campus, she felt right at home.
“In 1992 I came across to Australia for a holiday with my husband and saw the advertisement in the paper for the Head of Junior School role at Somerville House,” Mrs Bennett said.
“I actually had to borrow some clothing from my friend as I didn’t have any corporate wear with me,” she said.
“As soon as I arrived at Somerville House I immediately I felt right at home, the School had a good feel to it - I know that is a very tenuous thing, but it felt like a place of learning that I wanted to be a part of.”
Tasked with overseeing a multitude of changes within the School, Mrs Bennett was a driving force in the decision to say ‘farewell’ to the old Junior School (previously located on the site of the Foundation Building) and build the new Junior School.
Reflecting on her passion for education, and a love of learning, life and basic values like manners and being respectful, Mrs Bennett said it was these key elements that kept her at Somerville House for so many years.
“The people who interviewed me when I applied for this role gave me a great sense of hope that they were looking to the future of education,” Mrs Bennett said.
“I am a person who believes and knows our little ones are going to be in the workforce in fifty years’ time, which means they have to be ready to take on a different world that I grew up in, but with the same basic values,” she said.
A qualified primary and secondary education and geography teacher, Mrs Bennett took time to reflect on the three interesting and pivotal trends she has seen over the course of her teaching career and within the classrooms of Somerville House.
“One major trend you could say, is the rise of technology as an education tool,” Mrs Bennett said.
“Another is the didactic approach of the ‘teacher knows everything’ and being the ‘director’ of everything to a now collaborative approach where the students actually have a voice - but there is still the respect,” she said.
“The teacher is still the facilitator and the leader, but gives the students more opportunity.”
“I think the other, and most important trend is the focus on whole child’s development, including physical, spiritual and emotional wellbeing, which at primary level is so important because if you don’t have an emotional engagement with your learning, you aren’t going to learn, it’s as simple as that,” Mrs Bennett said.
“It is important for students to be resilient, but also know that they have support and I think that is so important for them to know they don’t have to do it alone,” she said.
Officially farewelled at a function held last Friday night in the Honour Room, the School was very fortunate to be joined by many distinguished guests, including past Principals, Dr Murray Evans and Mrs Flo Kearney.
In her farewell address, current Principal of Somerville House, Mrs Kim Kiepe reflected on Mrs Bennett’s many achievements within the School, wishing her good health and happiness as she moves into the next chapter of her life.
“Mrs Bennett is an outstanding example of the way in which an authority figure can combine leadership expertise, with the skill of staying in touch with the needs and feelings of those around her,” Mrs Kiepe said.
“We wish Arna good health and happiness as she moves into a new chapter in her life, with her dear husband Gordon,” she said.
“We trust she will have the time available to do all of the things that she enjoys.”
Reflecting on just what that next chapter looks like for her, Mrs Bennett said that she is looking forward to no alarm clocks, travelling and simply slowing down.
“I have had many offers for relief teaching and my friend is insisting I come and volunteer with her at the Queensland Police Service,” Mrs Bennett said.
“But I think it is time for my husband Gordon and I to slow down and have some time together,” she said.
When asked what she would miss the most about the Somerville House, Mrs Bennett spoke from the heart when she simply said, ‘the students’.
“I will miss having a relationship with the students; seeing their learning and their positive reactions to achieving something they thought they couldn’t achieve,” Mrs Bennett said.
“I have enjoyed being a team player and taking my team with me on this journey,” she said.
“I love this place and I will miss it terribly – but I know I can always come back.”
“Somerville House is a learning place, it’s a place that has withstood 120 years and I believe it is going to be around for another hundred years,” Mrs Bennett said.