Students given royal treatment


28 November 2011

Callaghan College student Jordan Pasterfield meets dancer and author Li Cunxin

It's not many students who can claim to have been given priority over a queen, but students at Callaghan College, Wallsend Campus can now boast that fact.

Li Cunxin, whose life story was immortalised in the film Mao's Last Dancer, recently visited the school as part of the schools Gifted and Talented Students (GATS) enrichment program.

"Li had to reschedule a meeting with Queen Elizabeth as he had already committed to come and speak at the school. It was such an honour to have him at our school but this made it even more special," deputy principal Dr Fiona Walsh said. 

Students strive for excellence

In its second year the GATS enrichment program involves students working on an independent research project over two and a half terms.  The students must document their progress in a research folio and then present their final work at the school's GATS showcase.

"The students take responsibility for their own learning ... and throughout the program strive for excellence in their area of gift or talent," Dr Walsh said.  Callaghan College is a specialist school that focuses on middle years schooling.

Jordan Pasterfield, a talented and passionate dancer was inspired by Li's life story and incorporated it into her project. 

Her project involved a theoretical component - researching Li's life and designing costumes - and a practical element where she choreographed a sequence of three dances that reflected the different phases of Li's life.

Dancer an inspiration

"I chose Li as my inspiration not only because he is my idol as a dancer but also I believe that anyone could really relate, connect and be touched by Li's story," Jordan, a Year 9 student, said.

Dr Walsh contacted Li via email and explained that Jordan had used his life story as the inspiration for her project and asked him if he would like to speak to the students.

"I explained to him the passion and dedication the GATS students have in completing their work ... and how our learning community is one that is constantly striving for excellence," Dr Walsh said. 

This year more than 80 students were nominated for the program with 20 being successful in gaining a place.

Talent reflected in a diversity of projects

The diversity of the students' talents was reflected in their projects. The projects included composing an original piece of music, writing a novella, producing a short film, creating a series of professional grade cakes and developing a teaching tool that demonstrated how the nervous system works.

The students had two periods a week to work on their project and were supported by a mentor.

 "Mentors have an invaluable role in the program, facilitating the work of the students, ensuring they are on task and focused through their GATS journey," Dr Walsh said.

The students commented on how being part of the program not only extended them academically but also as individuals.

 "The program pushed me beyond my limits and made me think outside 'the box'.   It has made me get organised, learn effective time management skills and be creative," Jordan said.

Photo: Callaghan College student Jordan Pasterfield meets dancer and author Li Cunxin. Photo by Joy Kingsford.


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