MORUYA leads rural NSW in the adoption of Primary Ethics, with eight volunteers and six senior classes.
Coordinator Amy Way, an archaeologist, has recruited six teachers and one substitute for the program since it began in 2011.
Primary Ethics general manager Teresa Russell said Moruya parents “had taken up the option more than any other rural town in NSW”.
A P&C member, Ms Way recruited one teacher in 2011 for Years Five and Six, and four last year, which allowed the program to be extended to years Three and Four.
“We have a great P&C and the community is really engaged,” she said.
Ms Way hopes two more will come aboard mid-year to allow the program to be rolled out to the junior school.
Her first recruit was parent Mark Pattison, who took time out from his role as executive director of the National Council of Intellectual Disability to lead the first class of more than 20 children.
“We had kids on the waiting list almost straight away,” Ms Way said.
He was joined last year by retired community health educator Ainsworth Patroni, sustainability educator Mark Shorter, retired health administrator Martyn Phillips and retired nurse Jan Phillips. Mrs Phillips does not have a permanent role, but fills in when someone is absent.
Rookies beginning on Monday were scientist Mark Harris and engineer Lachlan Bain.
Sydney’s St James Ethics Centre founded the charity Primary Ethics and all volunteers undertake training.
Discussion topics might include ‘should kids have credit cards?’, ‘is stealing wrong?’, and ‘should we eat meat?’, Ms Way said.
“The teacher’s role is to facilitate the children to discuss things in a way that is respectful of each other and to help formulate an argument,” she said.
In encouraged the development of “critical reasoning skills” and trying “to think of evidence to support their views”.
Mr Phillips said the role wasn’t easy, but classes were full of surprises.
“The kids come up with remarkable answers,” he said.
His best advice was “to keep tap dancing”.
“Keep them involved, keep them discussing.”
Mrs Phillips said some students “waited anxiously to get a prime position” and were “inspired by each other”.
Ms Patroni said the children were respectful and “we encourage them to back up what they think”. She thanked parents and the school for supporting the program.
Mr Harris hoped children would build on their ideas.
“It is about reasoning and thinking, not about having a correct answer,” he said.
“It is a different way of getting them to think, rather than having facts thrown at them.”
Mr Bain said he had been taught how to promote discussion.
“Being able to ask questions, to investigate things and look for reasons is really important to be a good citizen,” he said.
“You need to be able to justify why you believe in something.”
Mr Pattison, entering his third year, says he still gets surprised.
“The kids have a lot to teach us,” he said.
Mr Shorter said it was “important to have an alternative to scripture and non-scripture” and for students to learn “ethics, morals and reasoning”.
“They all want to talk and you can see their little brains ticking,” he said.