No Payne, no gain? Year 11 learn to live without Grace.

Written by Amber Kwok

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Left: Mr. Paul Grace | Right: Mr. Chris Payne, new Y11 Head of Year - (“Secondary Teaching Staff - Renaissance College - ESF - Hong Kong”, 2018)

On Thursday 28th of June, 2018, the last morning assembly of the year, an announcement was made in the Performing Arts Center that cleaved the Year 10 students’ world in two: Mr. Paul Grace, frequent user of dad jokes and Head of Year 10, would relinquish his latter role in pursuit of the Curriculum Project Leader position for the Individuals and Societies department. For the Year 10s, their lives were separated into two very different periods: before Grace vacated the role, and after.

After the announcement, students’ conversations hovered around the topic; thick with anticipation for a period of adjustment: PSE, focus group, assemblies, and REAL Week would never again be the same.

In the four years that he lead the year group, bonds were formed that cannot easily be forgotten. Cold mornings were spent in the noisy expanse of the PAC, students listening in rapt attention as updates were given on Grace’s status as a dog AND cat owner; a week was spent in sunshine and casual clothes as the year marched, unified, towards the advancement of human rights movements; afternoons were spent as Year 7s, learning new things at every corner and getting in trouble every step up the way; hallway encounters were had in which students shied away, hiding their colourful shoes, off-brand jackets, and other such contraband from the inquisitive eyes of the H-o-Y.

A primary role of a Head of Year is to manage the students’ pastoral education, putting a student’s mental health and wellbeing at an equal value to academic courses. In a recent interview with the departed head, he revealed that much of his focus had been on building communities within communities and nurturing different relationships, expressing the need to “make a big school feel small.” Though it has been more than a month since the new school year began, Grace, now teaching only one Year 11 class, says that he is “hopeful that everyone will realise that I'm still there, if anyone wants to catch up and say hi.”

In his new position, he focuses on creating interdisciplinary units, working on initiatives (such as getting external people to do extra work with the students--he revealed that he had organised a crossroads field trip for the Year 11s later in the year), and developing new materials, ideas, and projects within the department. He revealed that his choicewas not an easy decision to make… it’s a great role in RCHK working as a HoY.” It is this fact that motivates his successor, Mr. Chris Payne.

Payne, a seasoned teacher of four years in the UK and a subsequent three years in Shanghai, during which he worked as head of years 8, 9, and 11, is well-versed in the duties of a HoY. He is particularly interested in year 11 as an age group, explaining that he enjoys helping students realise their ambitions, dreams, and what they want to do with their lives during the transition year, adding that “it has a lot of unique challenges that no other year group has.” It was with genuine enthusiasm that he spoke of his feeling of privilege to have “a small part in the life of a year 11 at RCHK”, and his current work on Y12 IBDP options as well as ensuring that all the students get through WoW and PP. As Grace also mentioned, Payne is a capable and experienced teacher who, to him, “seemed to have a good idea and understanding about Renaissance pretty quickly.”

Ms. Angela Lee, a school social worker, is of the firm belief that this sort of transition would not have any sort of major impact on the students, though she remarked that “it might take some time for the new Head of Year to build a relationship to engage with the students… though as long as he or she is working hard enough to take the initiative to get close with the students, I think it can be a positive change.” She also noted that her team works closely with the Heads of Year to make sure students’ needs are met, especially when new staff are brought in.

In an interview with Harold Kwok, a graduate from just one year before, he explained that since his year group had Mr. Nick Georgiou, an I&S teacher and now the head of year 7, as their head for almost all their secondary years, the close bonds that were formed allowed for deeper involvement and assistance from their head; stating that “it gave the HoY a chance to get to know every single person in the year level, which perhaps allowed him to handle issues and such in a better manner, and so we know him better… so he’s more chill to us.”

“Throughout my pastoral education, since he stayed with us the entire time, he was a great source of moral support,” the RCHK alumnus also stated.

Although the Year 11 students were understandably quite shocked upon finding out about the transition, some even reporting to have felt  “betrayed”, “shocked”, and “devastated”, the year group has adapted well so far and no major issues have been raised. Some have voiced their wish that more prior notice could have been given so that they could have had time to absorb the news and to also have been reassured of Mr. Grace’s continued presence in their school lives. To date though the transition has been smooth. Year 11 students maintain that the change has had an overall neutral impact in all aspects of their pastoral and academic education, pertaining to the fact that Mr. Payne has been a great help thus far.