“We want our young people to have buy-in,” says Sue Westbrook, Chair of the Board of Directors for Gateway Community High.
A small but significant detail, buy-in—in other words, the willingness to actively participate in a program to help themselves—makes all the difference in success for young people.
“If they come here just because their mother tells them to, it won’t work.”
But give Sue an hour, and you can guarantee teenagers will want in. “We’ll walk beside them, but we need them to want it—it’s their journey. Catch a dream and pursue a dream.”
Sue comes from a teaching background and her level of compassion and practical, find-a-way approach is obvious.
She spent a good portion of her career involved in foundational skills (literacy and numeracy) and what she calls “second-chance” education in TAFE NSW. As Associate Director of TAFE Western Sydney, she was responsible for delivering a Year 10 equivalent program, the HSC across New South Wales, and TAFE-based tertiary education.
“Over my career, I’ve worked with lots of young people who needed something different from the mainstream way due to a problem with timing or life circumstances.”
Which is why the vision for Gateway Community High is truly inspiring. It’s also why the planning phase was unhurried, deliberate, and well-researched by Macquarie Community College, one of Sydney’s longest standing independent adult education institutions.
Gateway is a Special Assistance School providing education for small cohorts of students completing Years 9 and 10 (NSW Stage 5). When the community-focused CEO of Macquarie Community College, Theresa Collignon, first envisioned Gateway, her goal was to plug the gap through which young people can fall when they experience interruptions in their learning.
When young people at the vulnerable age of 14 to 16 come up against circumstances that overwhelm their ability to cope, they will sometimes refuse to go to school and often perform below their academic potential. Parent resources are stretched to the limit and there are few alternatives to mainstream education. Young people living in New South Wales cannot legally leave school before the age of 17 unless they are in full-time employment or training. Compounding the problem, the Year 10 Record of School Achievement (RoSA), is a vital baseline for progressing to further education and skilled employment and the requirements of the course must be met for a student to move onward.
Vocational Colleges witness the disadvantage and barriers for individuals who drop out of their formal education early. When they eventually find their way to vocational education after what can be a long detour, they come with large gaps in their learning, which may make them one of the 44% of Australians who have a literacy level no higher than that of an average Year 6 student. Although Macquarie Community College offers parallel literacy and numeracy services, the social and educational stigma has often already taken its toll on an individual’s confidence level.
Gateway offers new hope to troubled teens and their families who want to start now to create a better future
What does Gateway offer that other schools can’t?
Gateway at Carlingford is deliberately small — what makes all the difference is knowing our students and families, building respectful relationships and trust.
Gateway at Carlingford focuses on Stage 5, targeting fourteen - to sixteen-year-olds in Years 9 and 10 at School at a key turning point in their lives as they approach adulthood.
Gateway at Carlingford spends time on the fundamentals (especially English and Maths), the other subjects required for the ROSA and incorporates personalised approaches and enrichment activities.
Gateway at Carlingford builds in social and emotional learning opportunities for growth and well-being. Gateway has recently partnered with the Resilience Centre (Epping) to provide counselling and different group and individual programs for social-emotional support. The distance is deliberately built in so that young people can talk to someone other than their teachers and extend their network of support.
Gateway at Carlingford is a low fee school.
The future is bright for Gateway
“This is Gateway’s first year of operation, and we haven’t stopped looking to expand and include more options. It is very pleasing and a credit to the whole team that the outcome of our registration appraisal by the New South Wales Education Standards Authority (NESA) in just our fourth month of operation was to move from provisional to five years of full registration and accreditation” (the maximum possible).
Gateway is currently looking at ways to continue building positive group dynamics and programs around supporting students and staff. They’re focused on building a wraparound service that meets the needs of the whole individual. The concept of a vibrant parent/carer community is also on Gateway’s radar.
“We know how to run a school and our young people are looked after in an appropriate way as they get back on the pathway to a successful and fulfilled life.”
The Gateway model recognises that one size does not fit all. “While education is vital, the whole person must come first, and being small I have every confidence that we’re flexible and fast, and we can adapt and shift as needs determine.”