Downe the Lens – our Housestaff in focus
In the first of our Downe the Lens series focusing on our fantastic team of Housestaff, we meet the AGN Housmistress, Sam Cartmell.
Science has always been a passion for Sam Cartmell who now successfully combines teaching Biology to the Lower School girls and Chemistry at GCSE and A Level with being the Housemistress of AGN House. Each role informs the other and gives Sam useful insight into both the academic and pastoral aspects of the full boarding life the girls lead at Downe House.
Chemistry was her favourite subject at school, and Sam always dreamed of being a medic, so she studied Chemistry at Cardiff University. Along the way she worked in the NHS in a special Baby Care Unit and in a Child and Adolescent Mental Health team which she really enjoyed – however, a placement in surgery made Sam realise that medicine wasn’t right for her. Inspiration followed with the hit TV series, ‘Educating Yorkshire’, which prompted Sam to decide that she would teach Chemistry with the aim of inspiring others to go to medical school, and so went on to do her PGCE at Oxford University.
Before coming to Downe House in 2017, Sam taught Chemistry in the state sector at the Piggott School, a Secondary Academy School near Henley-on-Thames. When she became Head of Year 10, she found that she enjoyed connecting with the pupils and helping them to get the most out of their studies which brought her to taking on further responsibility for students' pastoral care and took on a Housemistress’ role at Downe House.
Sam said, “Being a Housemistress means getting involved in every aspect of the girls’ lives and making a difference on a daily basis. I get to know every girl and find out what makes her tick - they are all so different and we work through the trials and tribulations of being a teenager. It is a balance of being a parent and a friend and the girls know that they can come to me at any time for help with anything that is on their minds, whether that is how to work the washing machine, friendship issues or help with their Chemistry prep! I think that being a member of the academic staff does give me a tremendous insight into the ‘other side’ of the girls’ lives and of course teaching the Lower School girls means that I get to know the girls before they come to AGN.
Our aim at AGN is to create a warm and welcoming home-from-home for the girls when they return from their lessons to relax and recharge their batteries. The AGN team and I are always on hand to have a chat, guide them and help them to stay on track with their school work and all their activities. AGN girls really appreciate that the House is set a short distance from the main School building, and I think their short walk through the woods creates a nice gap between the School day and their AGN home. We are very fortunate to have so much space around the House and for most of the year, the girls are often outside making the most of the gardens and having picnics with their parents and friends. The House staff run activities every evening and trips at the weekends which give many opportunities to have fun with the girls and build strong relationships based on mutual trust.
My approach is based on being firm but fair and I think the girls understand and respect that. We encourage the girls to always have a go at new things and to enjoy doing their best. There is no typical AGN girl as we want them all to be who they want to be but above all, to be happy and confident with a good sense of humour and a belief in themselves. Our House motto is ‘Ad Astra’ which literally means ‘to the stars’ which sums up AGN’s ethos perfectly!”
As part of Downe House’s commitment to staff Professional Development, Sam is enrolled to start a two-year Masters Degree in Teaching and Learning at Oxford University in September 2019. The course will involve classroom-based research in school as well as attending seminars in Oxford and should certainly keep her busy alongside being a full-time Housemistress and Chemistry teacher!