The moment her life started crashing down around her, Alexis from Penrith really needed the kind of teacher she intends to become one day. However, there were few teachers who offered her compassion or tried to dig beneath the surface and find out what was really going on for the alienated adolescent, who once got in trouble for self-harming and wore her jumper in the middle of summer to hide the evidence.
“Teaching is not just a job, not just a way of making money,” says 20-year-old Alexis, smart and articulate, a world traveller, married, and with the first milestone in her pathway to becoming an early childhood teacher recently behind her. Now she can say that she’s happy and excited about the future. “Back then, I just needed one teacher to take an interest—one teacher who understood what poor mental health looked like in early adolescents and teenagers.”
Many of the details of her late childhood and teenage years are blocked from Alexis’s memory, although she does recall the broad brushstrokes of her parents’ divorce, the suicide of a close family member, a move to a different city and school, abuse she suffered from age 11 to 15 at the hands of a close family member, and the traumatic investigation that followed. The emotional turmoil derailed her ability to focus on schoolwork, she was bullied and ignored as a strange child with no friends, teachers assumed she was not very academic because she was not finishing assignments—and the interest they showed in her ended there.
If Gateway Community High had existed then, Alexis thinks it would have offered her the safe haven she desperately needed; a supportive space where she could get her head back together, complete the Year 10 ROSA (Record of School Achievement), stay on track for her career dreams, and begin healing. It would have been the ideal place for her when, aged 16 and the abuse finally surfacing, Alexis found herself out of school. “Everything changed, and all of a sudden, I was worrying about what an adult had to worry about—how to make money, what to do next. My future had been stripped away.”
Her ambitions of becoming a better kind of teacher than her own teachers looked like an impossible dream, derailed, at least for a while, until she was able to get the help she needed and do the work to become a healthy young woman again.
A Safe Haven and Place of Support
Gateway Community High, opening in Carlingford Term 1, 2021, is created to support vulnerable and disadvantaged teenagers in Years 9 and 10 like Alexis. The purpose of the brand-new Special Assistance school is to create a place of belonging for teens who don’t feel like they ‘fit’ and who need more support than a mainstream school generally provides. An initiative of Macquarie Community College, the team behind the concept are dedicated and experienced educators, skilled and wise in knowing exactly how to support students with greater social-emotional needs and who, most importantly, understand and have great compassion for young people.
“Gateway Community High is a specialised environment,” says retired Epping Boys principal Peter Garrard. “If you have low self-esteem, peer-related issues, or trauma causing depression and anxiety around the age of 14 or 15, the wheels are likely to fall off. You don’t give a hoot about the periodic table or the causes of the Second World War. Students like this will often just truant.” Or worse.
Gateway Community High engages students in experiential-style learning, provides specialist language, literacy or numeracy help where necessary, and builds in additional time for students to pursue their own interests and projects. There is a strict no homework policy and the program incorporates a healthy exercise program to enhance and promote individual wellbeing.
“Education is the pathway to empowerment,” says CEO for Gateway Community High and Macquarie Community College, Ms Theresa Collignon. “If a student misses a chunk of learning, for whatever reason, this can have significant consequences for their future and the future of their community.
“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.”
Who Should Attend?
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 Year 11 and 12 studies or future Vocational Education Training (VET).
“I’m excited about this new initiative in helping traumatised young people like I was,” says Alexis. “There were people who could have stopped what I was going through. Instead, it was like the butterfly effect for me. If only one person had reached out a hand to stop it.”
Come Along to our Open Day
We welcome you to come and visit our school at one of our open days, where you will hear first-hand why Gateway Community High could be the right school for you.
There are 3 Open Day dates to choose from:
Wed, 11 November: 4PM - 6PM
Sat, 14 November: 10AM - 12PM
Thu, 19 November: 4PM - 6PM
Our Covid-safe plan for Open Days means limited places are available and registration is essential. Register now.
*Alexis’s name has been changed to protect her privacy