Gateway Community High: Just what desperate parents of young teens are looking for
Updated: Oct 1, 2020
Sydney mum Louise Miller wishes the launch of Gateway Community High had happened in time for her son Jack, whose severe social anxiety led to school refusal three years ago.
Launching in Term 1, 2021, Gateway Community College will offer a better solution for thirty Year 9 and 10 students who would be more likely to thrive outside of the conventional schooling system. At a time when a child’s whole life can deviate off course due to unexpected life events colliding with the intense social-emotional turmoil of the adolescent years, programs like Gateway’s can be lifesaving.
“Academically, my son was the perfect child. The only suggestion teachers ever made on his report cards was that he should speak up more. But he wasn’t the type, he just didn’t feel comfortable raising his hand. Apart from that, he was progressing just fine.”
Added to the usual peer pressure and social upheaval of Year 9 were three significant events that occurred in quick succession in Jack’s life. His grandmother, who has lived with the family for Jack’s entire life, was diagnosed with cancer; the family moved; and his beloved dog was killed in an accident. The confluence of events caused Jack considerable emotional distress.
“He began complaining of tummy aches and so I’d let him stay home for one day. Then it became multiple days and, before I knew it, a week had passed,” Louise recalls.
Proactive, Louise acted fast, sending emails asking for help from the Year 9 coordinator at the school. She also sought advice from a friend who is a school counsellor.
“Before long, however, it was two weeks and nothing I did could get him to go back to school.”
Absenteeism is a common problem for adolescents experiencing high levels of anxiety and severe cases are referred to as ‘school refusal.’ Between 1 and 5 percent of children are affected in this way, and it most commonly occurs between the ages of 12 and 14.
In a meeting with the school principal, it soon became apparent to Louise that there was little the school could do to help. They recommended a period of distance education, which they believed would give Jack the time and space to deal with his anxiety and benefit from treatment.
This was not ideal for the Miller family. Working full time, Louise didn’t know if Jack would have the self-direction to do the study required of him, which is something other school refusers struggle with when it comes to distance education and home schooling. However, by Term 4 of Year 9, Jack was enrolled in a private Queensland distance education provider and Louise helped him stay socially involved with his closest friends in an effort to avoid complete isolation.
Three years later, 17-year-old Jack is now enrolled in a Diploma of Visual Arts having successfully navigated that difficult period in his life.
“The conventional school system is simply not suitable for all children, including sensitive, creative ‘internalisers’ like my Jack” says Louise, an educator herself.
“Gateway Community High fills a critical gap, giving parents, and teenagers who are not thriving, alternative education opportunities to consider. What we all want is a chance to get through the tough times so our teenagers can get back to leading happy, successful lives.”
An initiative of highly successful support-based education institution Macquarie Community College, Gateway gives high schoolers the opportunity to learn in a positive, personalised and inclusive atmosphere.
“We engage students in experiential-style learning, provide specialist language, literacy or numeracy help where necessary, and build in additional time for students to pursue their own interests and projects,” says CEO Theresa Collignon.
“We have a strictly no homework policy and incorporate a healthy exercise program that enhances individual health and wellbeing. We’re confident this program gives students the boost they need to re-enter more conventional learning programs once they have completed their Year 10 New South Wales ROSA qualification.”
Gateway Community High is not a special needs or behavioural school—it’s an alternative high school with tailored support and special assistance dedicated to students who are unique in their own way, and who:
· Will thrive outside a mainstream educational environment
· Are looking for a place of belonging and safety
· Are interested in learning and willing to put in the effort to succeed
· Would benefit from extra support and attention to re-engage in their education
· May have missed some language, literacy or numeracy fundamentals
· Are looking to build their pathway to future Vocational Education Training (VET) or Year 11 and 12 studies.
“I’m excited about what Gateway will do for the vulnerable children of western Sydney who are in need of additional support,” says Louise. “This is a great initiative and a great opportunity.”
Funded by the Commonwealth and State Governments as a Special Assistance School, Gateway’s $50 per term fees are all inclusive of curriculum resources and extracurricular activities.
*The names in this article have been changed to protect privacy.