The Wandel Story

Boarding School was always part of the plan for 15-year-old Scotch College student Ollie and his three younger sisters. But choosing a school to partner with them in raising their son was one of the most important decisions Esperance farmers Jane and Scott Wandel have ever made.

Having attended and thrived at boarding school herself, Mrs Wandel admitted her own bias played a huge role in the decision to send their kids away for high school, but both parents were motivated to expand their children's horizons beyond their home community.

"Esperance has great high schools, and there are two to choose from," Mrs Wandel said.

"But so many kids never leave, as it is a big jump to the city when the country is all you've ever known.

"When you transition from home as a child with the support system of a boarding house, by the time you're 18, you're completely independent and can slot straight into city life.

"We wanted our kids to go to boarding school, not just for the vast opportunities they can offer, but if they decide to return to Esperance, it's from a place of perspective."

Both Mr and Mrs Wandel were raised on farms in Esperance, with a long family history of boarding.

"I absolutely loved boarding at PLC, and still have a core group of best friends from my time there," Mrs Wandel said.

"There are countless things to choose from when you go to a college in Perth, and I put my name down for everything.

"Even though Scott didn't embrace it on the same level as I did, he still had a positive experience and we knew if it were an option at all, we'd send our kids away for school."

Private schools are known for high academic standards and impressive facilities, but for the Wandels, these weren't the most important factors in the decision.

"We don't care if our kids decide to do a trade, go to university or undertake some other qualification when they leave school, as long as they do something," Mrs Wandel said.

"They will all experience boarding school differently, and it won't necessarily be in the same way I did, as they are different people with their own interests and abilities.

"It wouldn't bother us if they decided to pour most of their time into extra-curricular activities such as sports, arts and music, as long as they graduate.

"There is basically unlimited choice on tap for them, and it is all those extra things these schools can offer that they can't get in Esperance."

Despite being set in their decision that boarding school was the right choice for their family, choosing a college for Ollie still took a great deal of consideration.

"When you choose a boarding school, you are giving the college influence over your child and who they will become, which is difficult for most parents," Mrs Wandel said.

"It's so important to go and have a look at the colleges so you can find one that feels right and comfortable for your family.

"Some people have strong opinions about schools, but it shouldn't be about where everyone else is going, it has to be about what's right for your child."

Initially, Ollie wanted to follow some of his friends to Hale, even though his father went to Christ Church and his grandfather and great grandfather attended Scotch.

"Ollie's opinion was important to us, so we decided to tour Scotch and Hale on the same day, and if we'd been on the fence after that, we would have had a look at Christ Church," Mrs Wandel said.

"I think it's really important when you're touring schools to look at the boys that are already there as you can quickly get a gauge of the culture and how happy they are.

"Scotch felt immediately familiar, and we got a strong sense of community."

Throughout their experiences with other colleges, Mrs Wandel said the focus had always been on them as parents, but Scotch engaged primarily with Ollie.

"They started getting to know him immediately, personalising the tour to show him areas that spoke to his interests," Mrs Wandel said.

"It felt low key and comfortable, and the boys were polite and friendly."

As the tour continued, it became evident that all the boys at Scotch were confident engaging with adults, and after a group of students yelled "Come to Scotch!" from across the lawn, Mrs Wandel was convinced they had a genuine love for their school.

Aside from the people, the structure of the College was also a major selling point, with a separate campus for Years 7 and 8.

"The Middle School is on the opposite side of the road and offers the perfect middle ground between primary and high school," Mrs Wandel said.

"You can see into the window of every class, and they all have plants and artwork on the walls, which feels nice.

"But more importantly, the Middle School campus and Year 7-8 Boarding House are separate, which means the boys can still be kids for a couple more years until they are thrown in with the men in the Senior School.

"It is reassuring when you're sending your son away at 12 years old that they can still be little boys for a couple more years without feeling intimidated or pressured to grow up too fast."

Even though it "felt right" to all of them, it was ultimately Ollie who made the decision to attend Scotch.

"Scotch has had a really positive influence on Ollie, and he's grown so much in independence and maturity," Mrs Wandel said.

"He has a stronger sense of self, and I really love that there is a consistent message of respect and integrity at Scotch, which he has taken on board.

"They are doing such a smashing job raising young men, and we have never doubted we made the right decision in sending him to Scotch"

Like most parents, Mrs Wandel said that even though this was Ollie's third year at Scotch, missing him and her girls was the most challenging part of boarding school.

"It changes the whole family dynamic and leaves a void in the house, and then you have to re-adjust every time they do come home.

"It doesn't get easier with each child, but since Ollie was our first child, it was particularly difficult at the start.

"Unless you've lived away from home as a kid or have sent your own children away, it's hard to understand."

Even though she missed knowing what goes on day to day and those little intimate shared moments with her children, Mrs Wandel learnt to make the most out of the time she had with them at home and spoke to them as often as she could while they were away.

"When Ollie went to Scotch in Year 7, I found myself calling the Boarding House Master to ask if Ollie was homesick because he never called," Mr Wandel said.

"Some mums I knew had kids telling them everything about their day as they were feeling a bit homesick, which is very difficult, but Ollie was getting on with things and enjoying it.

"In the end, I threatened to cut off his phone if he didn't use it to call me and tell me every boring detail about his life, otherwise I'd never hear from him!"

But despite missing him, seeing how he had grown over the past few years at Scotch made it all worth it.

"Even though he came from a primary school with just 20 students and only one other boy in his year group, Ollie transitioned well to Scotch," Mrs Wandel said.

"There is a bit of a preconception that country kids are behind academically, but Ollie is a diligent student and has been a consistent high achiever at Scotch.

"They really have the cream of the crop when it comes to staff, who treat the boys with respect and earn it through friendly banter and by setting clear expectations.

"It's clear each of his teachers and the boarding staff want the very best for Ollie and they all support him to succeed in every way they can."

The house mothers and day mums were also great supports for Ollie, which Mrs Wandel found reassuring.

"As a mother, you worry about the little things like whether they'll remember to pack socks on sports days," Mrs Wandel said.

"It is amazing just how quickly they become independent, setting their own alarms and getting themselves off to school and sport, but it is comforting to know the house mothers are there to take care of our boys and look at them through a mum's lens.

"The day students' mums are also incredible, as we rely heavily on them to step up and ferry the boys around to different activities and they never let us down," Mrs Wandel said.

"The entire Scotch community is there to support our son, which is something we really appreciate when he's so far from home."

But it wasn't just the adults who were there for Ollie, with a cohesive group of boarders always around to help one another.

"Even though some homesickness is to be expected, Ollie has a really great bunch of kids in his boarding house, and they all seem to get along so well," Mrs Wandel said.

"I've always tried to keep my opinions to myself when it comes to speaking to other parents about boarding school, but I can't seem to help myself when it comes to promoting Scotch.

"Every time I come into contact with a kid that I think has a lot to offer the Scotch community, I find myself trying to convince his parents to attend a tour."

Even though Ollie had a few years left at Scotch and was in no hurry for his time there to end, he already had a plan for his future.

"At this stage, Ollie wants to study at Marcus Oldham after he graduates and travel before returning to the farm," Mrs Wandel said.

"We will support our kids in anything they want to do as long as they get some form of education, work for someone else for a while and ideally travel before making any lifelong decision.

"Farming is not a lukewarm commitment, and there is a whole world out there beyond Esperance.

"If Ollie decides to return to the farm, we want to be certain it is what he truly wants."

Ollie said that when they started looking at colleges, he was initially concerned about being alone.

"I have friends and family who went at Hale, so it was the safe option," Ollie said.

"But after touring Scotch, those concerns disappeared, as I could see they offered so many opportunities to make new friends.

"They also offered a lot of other unique opportunities and I thought if I was going to go to boarding school, why not give myself the best chance to succeed?"

Even though Ollie said moving from a school of 20 students to a classroom of 20 was a little daunting at first, and it took some time to make friends in the day school, in the boarding house, he formed connections quickly.

"My mates are the best part about boarding at Scotch," Ollie said.

"I just enjoy being with them, playing sports and going to the beach. It is just great."

After school, Ollie plans to travel the world before returning to the farm in Esperance, but the confidence he has gained from his time at Scotch will stay with him for life.

"I know who I am now, and I know what I believe in," Ollie said.

"That will help me long after I leave Scotch."

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