Mrs Kathryn Emtage and Mrs Frances Greene

In those golden moments of downtime between busy boarding terms, our Head of Boarding, Mrs Frances Greene and Deputy Head of Boarding, Mrs Kathryn Emtage set aside some time to reflect on the term that was, making program adjustments where necessary, to ensure their Boarders have the best boarding experience possible. 

“We have worked hard to promote a culture which acknowledges and acts upon the student voice, the student mood and student-centred leadership,” said the duo, who acknowledge that the best way to keep the girls happy is to grow them as leaders, give them involvement and ownership and trust them to get on with it.

In 2020, the celebration of National Boarding Week was dictated by many restrictions, so in 2021, Mrs Greene and Mrs Emtage were determined to empower the girls; namely Boarder Captains Hayley Pearce (Longreach) and Hellen Namaliu (Kokopo, Papua New Guinea) to craft a National Boarding Week program which was completely student-driven, student-led and supported community service initiatives which are aligned with the 2021 boarder experience.

Hayley has been thinking of ways to get our boarding community involved with the Blue Tree Project for a while, and so spotted an opportunity straight away. 

“As Boarder Captains, one of the events that we were really excited to run this year was National Boarding Week. At Somerville House, one of our traditions for this week is a fundraiser for a charity of our choice. Poor mental health has been a concern in boarding communities in recent years,” Hayley said.

Boarders, Hayley Pearce and Millie Smith

“Obviously at boarding school it is easy to become overwhelmed; you’re away from your family and home and despite being constantly surrounded by your friends, and developing close bonds with staff across the years, it can still get lonely,” she said.

“Our year 12 cohort this year, especially in the boarding house, is incredibly passionate about advocating for mental health. As well as this, many of the boarders at Somerville House are from rural Australia, so our devotion to this cause has also stemmed from the prevalence of mental health issues and suicide in our home communities.”

“In light of this, I thought that supporting Blue Tree Project in National Boarding Week, would be one great way to spread the message that it is okay not to be okay. Blue Tree Project was founded with the aim of breaking down the stigma around, and sparking conversation about mental health. I first came across the Blue Tree Project on one of the long drives from Brisbane to Longreach. After hours of watching nothing, the bright blue tree not far out of Barcaldine immediately caught my eye and has stuck with me, always acting as a reminder to check in with my loved ones and myself,” Hayley said.

Boarders, Hellen Namaliu and Jess Smith

“Luckily, living with each other and sharing countless experiences has allowed us to form unbreakable bonds so we are generally able to notice when another boarder is feeling down. Over my time at Somerville House, my boarding sisters have been the first to offer an ear, advice or just a shoulder to cry on and it has reinforced to me the benefit that checking in can have on a friends’ wellbeing. However, even as well as we know each other, there are times when school and life get in the way and we do just need a reminder, like a blue tree, to ask our friends if they are okay,” she said.

“I am incredibly privileged to be able to bring something so close to home and heart into my Brisbane community and all I can really hope for is that their message helps more people and that there will one day be a blue tree in Brisbane, maybe even at Somerville!”

Hellen Namaliu, Boarder Captain pictured with Year 7 boarder Jess Smith (Rolleston) at the United Nations of Boarding free dress day during National Boarding Week.

So where to from here? Keen to leave a lasting legacy to mark their captaincy, Hayley and Hellen have asked Principal, Mrs Kim Kiepe for permission to paint a tree on the Somerville House campus, blue. 

“Knowing that Blue Tree Project is about helping raise awareness around mental wellbeing by helping spark difficult conversations, I endorse this request and commend our 2021 Boarding Captains for drawing our attention to the initiative,” said Mrs Kiepe.

Boarding House students held a lunchtime bake-sale during National Boarding Week where they raised $563 for Blue Tree Project.

Boarding House Support Group (BHSG) Mum, Mrs Liz Smith said, “Jess and Millie told us they could have sold three times as much. Next time, we will make sure lots of Mums are in town to bake too,” Liz said.

“There is a blue tree in Dirranbandi. That’s where I first learned of Blue Tree Project. It’s great to see that the girls care and want to give back to the community,” she said.

Founder and CEO of Blue Tree Project, Kendall Whyte says, “It’s always so great to have our schools involved with the Blue Tree Project. I myself went to boarding school and know there are extra challenges growing up away from home. It’s about building a safe environment to talk about mental health in your community — wherever that may be,” Kendall said.

Find out more about Blue Tree Project at