Yvonne Rinaldi

matriarch

ˈmeɪtrɪɑːk

noun: matriarch; plural noun: matriarchs

  1. a woman who is the head of a family or tribe.

“in some cultures the mother proceeds to the status of a matriarch”

    • an older woman who is powerful within a family or organization.

“a domineering matriarch”

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I am perched on the edge of the visitors chair in Yvonne’s office that is reminiscent of a fishbowl. Two of the four walls in her office are floor to ceiling windows looking over the grounds of Caboolture Montessori School. Next to me is Yvonne’s collection of Elephants, every colour every size. I draw in a deep breath while taking in these beauties, thinking of the traits I know about these extraordinary mammals and the matriarchs that lead them – wisdom, strength, intelligence, natural born facilitators, social intelligence, openness, decisiveness, patience, confidence, and compassion. The banging in my chest, the fluttering of wings in my belly and my shaky hands, do not at all mirror the woman sitting comfortably in her office chair, stockinged legs crossed, arms lounging on the arm rests, chest, heart and face open, smiling and confident.

The planning of Caboolture Montessori 20 years ago, was the result of two women making a decision to commit their passion, time, and money into a venture that they wanted to succeed.

“Then three years later I left and went to a bigger school, then nine, nearly ten years ago I heard that they were looking for a principal here.

I decided to come back home.”

Yvonne, like Dr Montessori has training in the medical field. Medical technology and haematology were the fields that Yvonne first trained in, she held a position working with children in Zulu land looking at protein calorie malnutrition. Working closely with little ones she discovered that children were a lot more than physical entities, that they have an amazing capacity. Ever the student, Yvonne needed to know how to understand children on a deeper level than she had been trained for. About to become a mother herself, she sought a type of schooling that would nourish the whole child, the answer was given to her through word of mouth.

“That was 39 years ago, after that I looked at education, I managed to get myself two degrees. Firstly traditional education, and when I was doing my masters, I decided that again Montessori seemed the best thing because it was appealing to all areas of learning. So Montessori is it”

Yvonne’s education on a cellular and intellectual level of children’s development and growth is what sustains her. Her wise assessment and constant wonder of watching a child be able to do things for themselves, their own development and education and not being held to the “monkey see, monkey do” phrase, influences her. She takes her job seriously in influencing others to see the wonder that she sees.

“To get the best out of who they are as adults is looking for the best in children. It’s really not words and I really believe that so strongly. That every child is magic, and it’s up to us to remove those barriers to allow the magic to happen, and then provide scaffolding for them. I have millions of these moments for me. I mean for me it’s a daily occurrence. When I see one of the students and their eyes brighten up and they say over and over again, “I have done it” and you know they have done it. That to me is a glorious moment”.

When selecting people that she can nurture, learn from, teach, be playful with as well have the strength to lead, Yvonne seeks people that: lead with their heart, must be open to learning, know how to be professional, but, most importantly knowing that their own learning is vital for the children. That it is essential for the children to see their role modelling.

“Three or four times a week, I refer to Dr Montessori’s readings and books. And read them again. When you read things again you see if from a different perspective every time. I tell the kids that. I tell the staff that. Learning doesn’t happen in one go it takes repetition, but, repetition when you are ready and you’re ready at different stages, in different areas of your life.

It is always good to go back to good things. Good books, good memories, good people. You will gather more information”.

“They really are my children. Yes my staff are my kids – in a way. It is one on one when you want to reach a person it’s not just about relationships it’s about inter-relationships and intra-relationships. If you know who you are then you will give the best to the other person. So it has to be one on one first, when you are talking to a group absolutely you will start getting a conversation going. But if you are a leader when you are in a group, you try and get everyone else to talk. When it’s two of you, you can really focus on each other. Individuality in the class room is the same you still have to have your focus on everybody, but when you are talking to a student it’s just the two of you in that space. It encourages active listening and most of all trust. If you trust somebody you will give them the best and you will want to do your best. If you don’t trust them it is superficial, you don’t go down inside. Growth is from everyone. When people say look around look what you have done. I am not being patronising when I say that, it’s not what I have done, it’s what we have done as a group. There is no way. No way, that one person alone could’ve every achieved what we’ve got here. It’s just not possible. I have staff that are so committed, so passionate and when I know that they have got that, I can aspire and push for bigger things. Yes, what we have done is phenomenal and it is not ending, now it is what is coming next? What is the next challenge?”

 

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A well respected and wise matriarch with an ability to communicate, know when to take charge and know when to listen, when to connect with other leaders and draw from their wisdom in making decisions. Yvonne, shares with me her perspective on her first five years as the head of her tribe.

“My first five years of being a principal were absolutely terrifying. Terrifying. You feel that there is so much weight on your shoulders and you really don’t have that person next to you to say, “Well let’s do this or let’s do that”. So your decision making, your perception and how you see things is totally reliant on you. The responsibility was phenomenal and at the time, I didn’t have all the knowledge and I didn’t have the experience, I mean experience is something that nobody can buy or teach you. You learn through the process. So there hadn’t been enough process, I had been a teacher, I had been a curriculum director with others helping me make decisions. Those first five years was, “you breathe, you get in do the best”. Every time. Every time I was in a difficult situation, I would go to the bathroom, if I needed privacy,

“I would say think with your heart and do the best that you can with your heart not just your head. If it’s wrong then it will be wrong, but, you have done it with the best you can give at that very moment”

Now days when I look back I think, I was ok. I don’t know if I am proud yet, but I feel that I can relax more, I still have the moments when a big decision comes my way, now I don’t feel like I will crumble, I feel like I look around and grab people to support me. I have learnt that lesson, that, there are people that will help you and I also have an amazing board. When you have people above you and you know that they are there for you it helps a lot”.

Yvonne also draws on the life of other phenomenal humans.

“Mother Theresa I feel that, that, woman spent so much time in so much angst with no support that she was phenomenal. I mean Jo of Arc is another woman that is phenomenal. I need to bring in a man. Leonardo Da Vinci, I mean that man, the brain that really says it all for Montessori. The creative side of the brain, the logical side of the brain. I mean he had art, technical skills and information. I mean if I could have them all here, I would crawl under the table and let them go for it, they could do it all. But I can’t so I suck out the elements of each. If I could have anyone working beside me in the school? I mean the obvious choice would be Dr Montessori. But I think really I would like Madame Curie, she was an explorer, she was one that never felt she had enough and even what she found and discovered she was not happy with that, she kept going.

Seeking more of her openness and female intelligence I ask what the word “woman” means to her;

“Apart from Mother I think woman to me is arms outstretched and positive and powerful”

Of course finishing of for the quote of the day is none other than the Montessori quote.

“Let me do it by myself”.

I am grateful for Yvonne for sharing her story, her journey of wisdom, strength, intelligence, social intelligence, openness, decisiveness, patience, confidence, compassion, and for being the matriarch that has guided my family through our Montessori journey for eight years. She has shown every single one of these traits to the most important boys in my world.

 

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Bella

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boarding

(bɔːʳdɪŋ )

  1. uncountable noun

Boarding is an arrangement by which children live at school during the school term.

I left my boys with my sister and drove down the dirt road for my interview with Bella, these interviews that I organise have me anxious and out of my comfort zone every single time. I arrived at Bella’s home and after initial greetings, and quick catch ups with her parents over a flute of champagne, Bella and I got comfy in the lounge room for a chat.

The first question that I asked Bella was, “tell me what boarding school has been like for you?” This eloquently spoken 16 year old young lady started her story.

“I left home in 2013, as a year 8 student at St Hilda’s on the Gold Coast. It was my first time leaving home for longer than a week or two.”

“It was terrifying, boarding is terrifying, but, it has been amazing.”

I promised myself on the drive over that I wouldn’t get emotional. Well, that first sentence killed that promise. My nose started to run and my eyes misted over.

Sport, socialising and being active in the community is big part of the culture of living in the bush. Bella has built close friendships from being a team player as a young girl. As luck would have it she was introduced to her closest friend at a sporting carnival playing netball, and the girls went on to board together at St Hilda’s. There are not only rural and remote girls at the boarding school but a number from Papua New Guinea, Asia, and some prefer boarding over home.

She tells me about the process of being dropped off at her second home.

“For first time parents they are advised to leave a bit earlier so it doesn’t get too emotional. Our parents settle us in and then we head to the boarding house.”

The head of boarding and the boarding mums are at the school for the arrival of the girls to support them in getting settled. Helping the girls set up their new bedrooms, getting comfortable in their new surroundings. Bella is following in her mother’s footsteps at St Hilda’s. She was blessed to be allocated to the boarding mum that guided her mum, through the boarding years. The boarding mum also holds strong ties to the family. Bella’s granny nurtured Bella’s new boarding mum when she was a student at St Hilda’s.

“A boarding mum is a lady that comes to work and looks after boarding girls, they are so kind. I had her in year 8, I was her granddaughter and she loved me the whole way through. So when I finished year 8, I moved boarding house and she moved with me – she was with me for the next two years. I then moved again and now she is looking after my sister. When I started, I mean we were the babies, we are their babies, the babies of the school. These ladies are our mums while we are school. They are a big part of us, I mean we spend more time boarding than we do at home. So they become very special to us.”

“They looked after us through it all. We were naughty, but god they love us.”

Tears are now flowing freely down my face. For Bella, knowing that this young woman is so loved by so many strong women. For her mother for being so courageous and dedicated to her daughter, her education, and growth and sharing her child with another woman that Bella loves so much. And the boarding mum, what a special lady to devote her life to opening up her heart to loving and helping raise teenager girls so far from home.

“As a year 12 girl I get an individual room. They are very nice. The mums come around at 7am and wake us all up. Breakfast is 7.15am so we get dressed and ready to go to breakfast or we can make brekky in the boarding house. We usually just sit and have time with the mums in the morning, watch the news, get ready and then off to school. After school is where we go and do co-curricular activities or tutoring if we have to, otherwise we just go back to our room and do whatever we want until 5.00pm. Prep is at 5.00pm, so we study time until 6.10pm and then go for our dinner sitting, 6.40pm we have prep until 8.30pm. We can study in our rooms or they provide tutors in the boarding house. Most of them are old St Hilda’s girls as well, they come up we chat and study. From 8.30pm is for showering, studying or visiting friends in their rooms. It’s just like home you go around and chat to the mums, chat to your sisters.”

Bella acknowledges the social skills she has developed from being a boarder, she tells me about the situations faced by boarders that sometimes are out of their comfort zone, and what she has learnt from that.

“Every term we change rooms, you find when you’re living beside different people you become better friends with them. A few years ago I was put beside this girl and I was like, “oh no, I do not want to be beside her”, but by the end of the term we were really good friends.”

I have to laugh at little when she is telling me about the deep friendships that are forged in the boarding house. She makes it sound like a five year slumber party with your besties.

“It’s so much easier in boarding to make friends. I mean everyone is your sister we are so open and comfortable with everyone, maybe a little too comfortable. We are always talking to people, always with people, you just get so much confidence. Best part of boarding is just always being with your friends. In the end you are boarding more than you are at home and they are your second family, they just mean so much to you. I mean we can go out on leave on the weekends, but sometimes you just want to say home and hang with your girls. I have boarded for five years and yeah this is my last year. So daunting. I mean I am not going to see all of those girls every day and it is going so fast. I mean crazy fast, and scary knowing it’s nearly over. The whole time you think:

“Oh gosh I want to get out of here”. But now, its like, “oh no! I am getting out of here soon”.

And with friendships established with the girls you live with, you also build relationships with their family. The girls are “allowed out on leave” every weekend. There are a couple of weekends a term that are dedicated to the families and them spending time together.

“I mean, for all the times that mum and dad have come down I don’t remember a time that we just had us as a family. We always take out my sister’s friends or my friends, if they are stuck in. My really good friend, her mum lives in Western Australia so every time mum and dad come down we take her out.”

Bella compares going out on leave to see her parents with the feeling little kids get on Christmas Eve. “Oh yeah, it’s like I can’t wait to see them, I mean we only see them a few times during the term”.

Then for the families the routine of drop off and settling in to school is repeated. Drop off at school, mums and sisters are allowed up to the rooms for settling in, but being a girl’s boarding house, dads can’t go in. Bella tells me, most of the parents sign their girls in at reception, the girls catch up with friends before starting their school routine again. Obviously this is easier on some than others.

“Lucky for me I get to see mine every few weeks, which is very nice. I can also go over and see my sisters in their boarding houses whenever I want, and they can always come and see me.”

Bella participates in a new initiative for the school. She has taken on additional “sisters”. The program starts before the little girls arrive at the school some starting in year 6. Year 12 students connect with them by sending Christmas cards and wishing them a happy new year. On arrival at the school the big sisters look after the little ones, help them with the settling in, they help with homework, and offer support when boarding is overwhelming. Bella is positive that this new programme has helped the little girls greatly.

“I know my first year we all thought we were pretty tough and would hold back the crying. You always end up crying. All you want to do is go home see your family, god, even see the dog. We never had any older girls to help us get through it. Oh, those older girls for me where so scary, they were so big and we were so little. By doing this we are breaking that, we are good friends with them, and both of my buddies are good friends with my sister.”

She is home now for the school holidays, I ask her what it was like this time coming home.

“It’s is so good, so amazing to come home. I mean everything changes. Last time when I was home everything was green, but on the turn to brown. But I got here the other day and there is knee high green grass and we have puppies”.

“I mean and coming home to mum and dad and my youngest sister, oh, it’s everything”.

She goes on to tell me that she hasn’t always been positive and accepting of her life of having to live away from her family to receive an education.

“I am ok now with going away, but in year 9 I threw the biggest tantrum. I was not going back to school. I was not going back to boarding. There was nothing worse. So I just refused. I was just like “nope, I am not going back”. But yeah, year 9 was my worst year. Year 8 is so surreal, so new and exciting. Year 9, I knew what to expect, I knew what was going to happen and I was just like nope, I won’t be leaving mum and dad and my sisters. It was terrible. Eventually, I got in the car and I was taken back. Year 10 was so much fun.”

Year 10 for Bella was not only receiving an education from the school but from travelling the world. Bella an active student at St Hilda’s participates in sport, the adoption of little sisters, and she also represented the school in an exchange program to Holland for six weeks.

“It was the absolute best experience. I had never travelled overseas before, and then I ended up going to Holland living there for six weeks, oh amazing. I was really keen to travel everywhere when I got home from Holland. But now I just love being home. Australia is the best.”

In her last year at school, having made the most of her experiences as a boarder and in her education Bella has completed a hospitality and barista certificate and responsible service of alcohol certificate. She is currently working on her certificate three in childcare and works at the St Hilda’s day care centre with the pre-preps. So what is happening next year?

“Next year I will hopefully go north, maybe the Kimberley’s and either go jillarooing or governessing for a couple of years. I want to eventually go to the Marcus Oldham College”.

This portrait was a difficult piece to create as openly as I normally write. When I was crafting this piece I didn’t simply have Belle to think of. But her parents were taping away at my heart as well, that was the prickly part. I wanted the story from the mouth of the daughter that lives this experience. I wanted this interview and this story because I bow down to the parents that share their pre-teens and teens with a second family so generously. A big thank you to Bella and her Mumma, love you both for sharing your unique story.

If you love reading this and would like to read more interviews. Why not back me financially? I am creating a platform for me to showcase my best work, build a community and get paid to keep on creating. The more patrons in our community means more interviews, and more stories. A portion of this money will be used to pay it forward, sharing the love with other women and girls and raising their voice.

I chose the Hippie School

 

 

I chose the “hippie school”

I knew nothing about Montessori when I had my first child, at the time my sister-in law was working as a nanny in London for some very wealthy families. She sent me an email saying that I needed to find a Montessori school or Children’s house to send my child too as it is an extraordinary learning philosophy and that “her children” all attended Montessori. When it was time to send my boy to kindy, I searched google and an address popped up for a local Montessori Children’s house.  When I did a drive by I was initially worried as it was in a suburban street and it looked like a normal house from the outside with some metal play equipment in the playground. It was about 15 minutes from our house and I was shocked that such an alternative learning opportunity would be so close.

On the day of our interview when I parked the car and was walking into the children’s house, I noticed straight away that there was no brightly coloured or plastic toys anywhere there was nothing fake about this environment. There was grass, there was metal play equipment, metal bikes, there was pot plants everywhere, a sandpit, and a large rectangle shaped water play area.  When my son and I meet with the director she was kind and gentle and had a beautiful vibe and manner about her she radiated peace and calmness, I was so thankful when she told me that if we accepted the offer to attend that Jack would be in her class. She guided us down to the class room where he would be and the moment that I stepped into the class room, my eyes were wet with tears and knew immediately that this is where I would feel comfortable leaving my first born child.

The class room had about 10 children in it, they were all working quietly with intense concentration, co-operation, respect for each other – unbelievable for 2.5 to 4 year olds who were only at the Children’s house from 9 – 12, two days a week. The setting was astonishing, the floors were covered in beautiful rugs, the table and chairs were child sized and all made out of wood, there was small glass and crystal vases on the tables, filled with flowers that I had seen growing in the pots in the playground. Around the room was wooden shelves that looked like open bookshelves all holding handcrafted in Italy, Montessori designed materials, there was cooper and china bowls holding items like shells and marbles, rocks, there was bookshelves in the book corner and child sized brooms and dust pains and brushes and dusters in the home corner. Easels and paint were set up. I enrolled my boy that day and he was to start in the New Year. His first day of kindy, I was completely terrified to send him, I was 20 weeks pregnant with my second son, I was emotional and questioning if I was doing the right thing by sending my precious boy to an independent, alternative learning environment and maybe should just send him to a conventional kindy. When my husband saw the children’s house he completely freaked out, he didn’t want our son to go there, he thought the centre looked second rate and slapped together and that children at 2.5 years shouldn’t be allowed to cut flowers with scissors, or help with cooking and that the playground looked boring without plastic toys. He along with a lot of others called it the “Hippie school”, and almost everyone I met questioned me on this style of learning. The end of the first day, I was at the children’s house half an hour before finish time and observed my son through the window and knew immediately that I had made the perfect choice in following my instincts. He was having a wonderful time and from that day until 2 years later when he would leave for prep he absolutely loved his time at the children’s house.

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Always flowers in a Montessori environment

 

 

Montessori school’s offer what is called a Journey and discovery. This is an experience for the parents only. It is an opportunity to spend a Saturday and Sunday being the student.  The program enables parents to have a better understanding of how the children are taught. At school I always felt that I was able to fly under the radar and was sort of forgotten about. I have always felt that I didn’t receive a good education. Maths was the absolute worst for me and I still get anxiety when I think about or have to do maths. At the journey and discovery the teacher unknowing how much I fear maths, gave me a Montessori material that would teach me how to do long division. After the material was explained to me and I was shown how to use it and work out simple sums, I had it mastered in about 30 minutes. I had to excuse myself and went to the toilet to have a sob, because for all those years I had feared maths and in that short amount of time it made sense to me. I immediately knew this is where my child would be going to school.

 

Unfortunately that didn’t happen and he ended up at the local catholic school where he attended classes there for prep, grade 1 and first term of grade 2. I pulled him out the day after he had his head flushed in the boy’s urinal. This was the final straw after bullying not just from students but the teachers and meetings with the principal. He was labelled a trouble maker and a disturbance to the class. I had several meetings with various teachers and principals because I was trying to let them know that he was not naughty he was bored and frustrated. I asked for extra work for him and was denied and told to tell him to behave in class.

The day I pulled him out of the catholic school, I immediately called the Montessori school that was 2 minutes from our home and booked an interview with the principal. She welcomed us and gave us a tour of the grounds, she spoke to my son at eye level, she asked him how he wanted to be taught and what he wanted to learn, she asked him about his behaviour and he answered honestly (he said he wasn’t patient and that he like to talk), she questioned him on his interests at school and at home, she enquired about his friends and family, she asked if he liked sport and reading. They had a wonderful chat. I was secondary to this interview and was ecstatic about that because he was the one that would be spending most of his time there. The principal and I did chat and I ended in tears because she made us feel so welcome and I knew from the way that she had answered all of his questions that he would learn a lot here not just reading and writing. That the holistic approach to education and that each child is encouraged to take responsibility for their learning would be perfect for my boy. The way the school is committed to providing students with the opportunity to become self-motivated, confident, self-disciplined, and responsible is exactly what I wanted for my boy. When the principal spoke about how they teach the children that, learning the right answers will get you through school – learning how to learn will get you through life! That Montessori teaches students to think, not simply to memorize, feedback and forget. I again had tears. These two beautiful humans went on to have a deep and loving friendship where they challenged each other and learnt a lot of valuable lessons.

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Grandparents day at Montessori.

 

The basis of the schools approach is the simple observation that children learn most effectively through direct experience and the process of investigation and discovery. No two students learn at the same pace nor do they necessarily learn best from the same methods. I love the school goal: to be flexible and creative in addressing each student as a unique individual. This has been cemented for me with the learning styles of both my boys. They learn completely differently one is a book reader and the other is much more comfortable learning through doing and moving.

We have now been at the school for seven years, my eldest boy is in high school and my youngest is still enjoying his time at Montessori. I am forever grateful for this learning style and my mother instinct to not follow traditional education style.