The very first cohort of HSC students from Alesco Senior College’s Tuncurry campus have undertaken their final exams, and head teacher Kate Townsend couldn’t be prouder.
“This is a significant achievement for any young person, but for students at Alesco it is even greater, as they have additional hurdles to tackle,” she said.
“A lot of the students we take on here have things going on like mental health problems, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, unstable living arrangements, bullying, and a number of other barriers in their life which make attending a mainstream school difficult.”
For students from Forster, Tuncurry, Bulahdelah, Taree, Cundletown and Wingham, Alesco College provides a second chance at education which otherwise might not have been available.
“We are a new, fully accredited, independent school for vulnerable and at risk young people,” Kate said.
“We opened at the start of 2016, and have seen enormous growth, especially this year, with our first cohort of HSC students.”
It makes the staff feel very proud as well, because we have seen where they started, and watched their progression, its a pretty big thing for us.Kate Townsend
Alesco provides the same curriculum and content as mainstream schools, but is not in the public school bracket.
With just 40-50 students who have had difficulty in a mainstream setting, the school has a very flexible program which caters to the specific needs of its students, and offers a more supportive learning environment.
The small school environment allows the students the space to incorporate coping strategies that might not be possible in a bigger school.
“To see the students really make those positive choices towards their education, even though they have these extra difficulties is a massive achievement for them,” Kate said.
“It makes the staff feel very proud as well, because we have seen where they started, and watched their progression, its a pretty big thing for us.”
Alesco started in Newcastle in 2012 and has since expanded to four additional campuses run out of Newcastle at Raymond Terrace, Tomaree, Cessnock and Tuncurry.
Kate and the other teachers encourage students to engage in the community as much as possible, and the school has a strong partnership with the nearby daycare centre.
“Students go there and implement programs with the children, and we also do a lot of work with Ted Bickford the graffiti buster as well,” she said.
"We get them out into the community as much as we can, because given the right opportunities and strategies, they can make a really positive difference, and it gives them a sense of fulfillment and pride in achieving something for their community.”
The school, which started last year with just six students, is now bursting at the seams with applicants, and has made a significant difference in the lives of its students.
“We often have parents asking what have you done to my child, they are going to school every day,” Kate said.
“We have students who previously didn’t go to school for up to two years, and now they come every day.
“I think part of that comes down to knocking down traditional barriers between teachers and students, we take that away, so things like calling teachers my their first names.
“There is a lot of trust, they can leave the school during breaks, and then they have the responsibility to get back on time.
“Giving them that freedom and responsibility helps to break down those barriers.”
The school has a full time student welfare officer, someone the students can go to at any time during the day, to talk about whatever significant things that are going on in their lives.
In the school where the objective of developing well rounded graduates is key, students success is based on their willingness to get out in the community, and their personal development, rather than test results.
“I want to get the message out there about what this school does,” Kate said.
“It’s such a small program, easy for it to go under the radar.”
For more information about Alesco Senior College, or application inquiries, call the school on 6554 9215.