Magdalene student history project wins national Anzac Day Schools' Award

News | Magdalene student history project wins national Anzac Day Schools' Award

Posted 11 December 2018 by Catholic Education in News

Congratulations to Magdalene Catholic High School, Narellan - named by Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, Darren Chester, as one of this year’s Anzac Day Schools’ Award recipients for their Year 10 History elective class’ research project commemorating the service and sacrifice of our veterans.

The National Anzac Day Schools' Awards are presented to the best commemoration and learning activities developed by students across the nation. The class of fifteen History students received two such awards: the NSW state runners-up and the national special category winner for Best Innovative Activity, awarded to an ‘original and creative learning activity that broadly engages students with Anzac Day, veterans and/or current serving members of the ADF.’

The class project involved the analysis of an old chocolate box of artefacts from World War I belonging to Private William Anthony Bernard Kelly: medals, uniform badges, tintype photographs, postcards and a tobacco tin. The students researched each item and the digger they once belonged to in order to understand the items and the story they told. They then worked to track down a living descendant of Private Kelly to return the items to the family.

The team documented their findings in the form of a website for others to also explore and enjoy. Their final project submission can be viewed at:

181211 Magdalene ANZAC School Award Artefacts

Entries were judged on a range of criteria, including the involvement of the school and wider community, veterans or current serving member/s of the ADF; a respectful combination of tradition and innovation; the historical accuracy of content; research with correct referencing and sourcing; the effort and care given to presentation; and the quality of commemoration, empathy and understanding of the Anzac story.

The Narellan students excelled in these areas, particularly in the strength of the students’ research and the creativity of such an effective learning experience that demonstrated a high level of engagement and relevance to the local veterans and community.

“The Magdalene students demonstrated collaboration in order to conduct research and transfer their findings to a website. These activities required students to develop technical and design skills to create a professional-looking website. The judges were impressed with the extent of research that was completed and likened it to an archaeological discovery” - Anzac Day Schools' Award judging panel

Magdalene History teacher, Denise Phillips, coordinated the team and was praised for her commitment and innovation in facilitating this meaningful project. She said the chocolate box of artefacts came to her through a contact at the Appin Historical Society who had tried years earlier to find the rightful owners, but had been unsuccessful. She passed it on to Mrs Phillips for her students to research.

“The students were very excited to actually have these tangible artefacts to work with. From the outset, they were eager to find the descendants of William Kelly in order to restore them to the family,” Mrs Phillips said.

It was then the team started to realise just how much research and work was involved in such a task! Nonetheless, the students persevered - they analysed the individual artefacts and looked at them in relation to Kelly, aligning each with his presence on the Western Front and the correct WW1 battles. The students then used to access records and census documents in order to trace his family.

“That was the hardest part of the task,” Mrs Phillips recalled. “We had found marriage and birth certificates for William’s only child, Doreen Kelly, but could not find any death records for Doreen. The students found this frustrating, but then calculated that she would have been about 102 years old and questioned whether she was still alive.”

“Magdalene has links to the local Carrington aged care facility, so I asked a staff member if she knew of any centenarian ladies there. When she heard the name, she stopped and said, ‘I know someone with that surname, he is a family friend’. To our surprise, this was the family we were trying to trace - the private’s grandson! I truly believe that we had divine assistance in this task!”

181211 Magdalene ANZAC School Award collage

When the project team heard the wonderful news that they had been able to get in touch with a living relative of William Kelly, they were ecstatic that their research had a living connection and could make a real difference to the private’s family. It also meant a real end goal to work towards for the first time during this task, which motivated them to complete the final stages with renewed enthusiasm and purpose - there was now, as the students said, “someone who was just as excited about receiving the artefacts as we were researching them”.

“It has been amazing to work with these precious artefacts. To be able to find the descendants of William Kelly and return the artefacts to their rightful place has been an honour” - Magdalene student project team

On reflection, the team found one of the most challenging parts of the task to be the persistence and determination needed to keep going progressing the project when they got stuck in a ‘research rut’ and couldn’t find the information they needed.

“I found that combing through so many different websites and pieces of information to try to find relevant data was difficult, because so much of the information was generalised or irrelevant, rather than specific to the person we were researching,” project team member, Olivia said.

“[But] being able to find the living relatives of the man we were researching was an exciting experience. We got to actually see how our work made an impact on someone, and how researching the past can improve lives today” - Olivia, Magdalene student

Fellow team member, Monique agreed, “The best thing about this task was seeing how happy the grandson was to receive his grandfather's memorabilia and being able to show him everything that we had discovered about his family.”

Read more about the students’ reflections on their work throughout their research journey by visiting their website reflection page.

True to the historians they were, Mrs Phillips said uncovering the truth and being able to return the medals and other artefacts was the most rewarding and satisfying part of the experience for the students.

“Our goal was the find the family and return the medals. At the end of the day, this was more important than any competition. One hundred years after WWI, the artefacts needed to be in their descendants’ possession again. The students and I are so glad we were able to do this” - project co-ordinator and Magdalene teacher, Denise Phillips

“I am very proud of the effort the students put into this project. As you can see from the bibliography, they spent many, many hours researching, reading and tracing history; then working collaboratively on the fine details of the research; then writing up their findings. Plus the challenge of presenting all that research and detail on the was a big task, but they succeeded and have now been recognised nationally for their hard work.”

Minister Darren Chester said the awards were instrumental in ensuring students across the nation have an informed understanding of the service and sacrifice of our service men and women throughout history.

“Through instilling respect for our wartime history and promoting the importance of Anzac Day for future generations, we will continue to honour those who have served our nation,” Mr Chester said.

Magdalene will be awarded $500, a Certificate of Achievement and a plaque to display at their school.

The dual Anzac Day Schools' Award recognition for the Narellan Catholic secondary school comes after John Therry Catholic High School, Rosemeadow won the NSW secondary school Anzac Day Schools’ Award last year for their storybook project, aimed at educating the school community and younger generations about the symbolism of Anzac and encouraging future commemorations of the Anzac spirit.

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