Tears before school was a Monday morning ritual for Raja, a little boy lost at his large local primary school in the inner west.
His mother, Pam Nallathambi, knew he was falling behind academically, but when Raja finally confessed that he was afraid of his teacher, Mrs Nallathambi requested her son be transferred to another class.
“They said they didn’t want to upset the teacher. Then the school counsellor suggested Raja should go to a class for ‘intellectually mild’ children.”
Mrs Nallathambi resigned from work and spent a year searching for the right school for shy Raja – one which could offer him a smaller class size.
Then she stumbled across an advertisement for a Newtown school which boasted that no class exceeded 15 pupils.
Mrs Nallathambi, a Hindu, was unaware that The Athena School is Sydney’s only Scientologist school. But she liked what she saw, and enrolled Raja at the beginning of last year. “Now he’s more confident, there’s no more tears,” she said. “At the other school he had no friends, now I can’t get him to come home at the end of the day.”.
The Athena School has 90 pupils, from pre-school to year 10, and eight teachers, who have reportedly completed six months training in L. Ron Hubbard teaching techniques, rather than holding formal qualifications. Fees are about $1500 a term.
The principal, Clare Holbrook, says that no religion, including Scientology, is taught. But the school does base its teachings on Hubbard’s philosophy of education, centred around the theory that children, like adults, need to “learn how to learn”.
Values are inculcated through a Scientologist booklet, The Way to Happiness, whose principles would not look out of place alongside the commandments of the Judeo-Christian and Islamic religions.