The ‘Katitjin’ Program helping boys on their journey to manhood

A term spent off-campus gives these Year 8 boys a chance to master a constellation of skills required not just for school, but for life.

Thirteen is not typically an age associated with maturity, especially for boys. It can be a difficult age, both to be and to be around, but this is the precise moment chosen for a unique program, Katitjin, being offered at Wesley College.

Read the latest print edition of School News HERE

“Thirteen is a pivotal age at which students experience a unique blend of emotions as they navigate the transition from childhood to adolescence, including the desire to be treated like an adult while still being seen as a child,” explains the Head of the Katitjin Program, Craig Bell. “For Year 8 students, this time is a difficult, reflective one and the traditional curriculum doesn’t address it.”

During the Katitjin program, students are removed from the main school campus to the Western Australian Rowing Club in the Perth CBD. Instead of daily classes, students work independently and in teams on a range of hands-on projects that allow them to forge a deeper understanding of both themselves and their community.

“The name comes from a Noongar term meaning ‘to listen and to learn’,” explains Bell. “Each student begins their Katitjin experience at a different stage of their journey from childhood to adolescence. For some, the focus on self, team and community has a profound impact on their worldview and understanding of the wider environment around them. For others, learning to navigate public transport solo increases their independence and opens doors to personal discovery.”

Image supplied

Preparation for life

Wesley College, founded in 1923, is located near the banks of the Swan River in Perth and is home to around 1300 students. While the primary school is co-educational, the senior school is boys-only.

“Rites of Passage have always been a part of coming of age, the crucial journey from boy to man, but too often today we forego these life-affirming experiences in favour of pressure, stress, and an expectation that young members of their society move too quickly towards the demands of adulthood.” Craig Bell

Bell is quick to point out that while Katitjin cannot be the entire journey, it is a facilitated process that gives boys a glimpse of their future life and responsibilities outside of the traditional classroom setting. With the books away and screens off, the program utilises real-world challenges and real-life people that the students might not otherwise be exposed to.

During Katitjin, the boys still learn maths, English and everything else expected in the standard curriculum, but it is done in an entirely real-world setting with an innovative hands-on approach.

Some of the activities of the program include independently making their way to the meeting point every day in the CBD, self-awareness workshops, team challenges and assisting at Uniting West’s Tranby Day Centre for the homeless.

“The three-week social justice unit is a highlight and one which I am passionate about,” says Bell. “It provides students with the opportunity to learn through experience in a real-life context, listening and interacting with people with lived experience of homelessness and disability. It provides a platform for students to reflect on their lives and privileges and what they can do to make a difference in the world.”

Image supplied

Preparation for high school

While much of the program’s focus is on enabling students to establish their place in the world, Katitjin also prepares boys for the immediate years of schooling ahead.

“During their time away from school, on the beginning of their journey towards adulthood, students will engage in specific activities designed to give them the skills they will need to master in the high-pressure academic environment of Senior Schooling,” explains Bell.

Self-awareness workshops train the students to critically and creatively understand their strengths and weaknesses, which can then be applied to different parts of their academic and personal lives. “This can help them better manage stress, anxiety and the inevitable pressure of teenage life, from exams to relationships.”

Advice to other schools

While not all schools would be in a position to implement a similar program, Bell offers the following advice to those considering a rite of passage program.

“At the time Katitjin was established, considerable research was done into a range of like programs on the east coast of Australia,” explains Bell. “Some of these programs involved full-year residential experiences in remote locations, or the lease of commercial buildings in the middle of the CBD. These cost millions of dollars to establish and required considerable ongoing financial contributions from parents.”

“While Wesley adopted similar educational principles in its development of Katitjin, a clear decision was made to design a program that was specific to our culture and context. The establishment costs were, therefore, relatively low. Ongoing expenses are not significantly greater than a typical on-campus curriculum offering or what many schools would spend on a short, whole-year group camp experience.”

“Our advice to schools looking to set up such a program is to do their research on the guiding principles that underlie a program of this nature. Then seek to design a program that suits factors such as their culture, context, demographics, and location.”

There is also the need to constantly evolve and ensure that programs like Katitjin remain relevant and impactful.

“The world and societal impacts our Year 8 students experience are constantly changing and evolving. It’s important to us that our Katitjin program is adaptable to these influences,” explains Bell. “In 2024, we embarked on an innovative research project with the world-leading educational research company, YellowCar, centered around developing quantitative data on the impact of Katitjin, to inform our decision-making and enhance the effectiveness of the program. We are excited to receive the discoveries of this research in 2025.” 

Shannon Meyerkort

Shannon Meyerkort is a freelance writer and the author of "Brilliant Minds: 30 Dyslexic Heroes Who Changed our World", now available in all good bookstores.

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button
SchoolNews - Australia