“Before I came to Carinity I always felt like I wouldn’t graduate from high school.”
For a long time, the thought of obtaining an education seemed unattainable for Ambur.
The 17-year-old had long struggled at school, impacted by negative life experiences causing low self-esteem and a lack of confidence and self-belief.
“I left my old school due to many reasons, mostly because I never went to class as I couldn’t understand the work, the bullying and I was not happy,” Ambur recalls.
“My first impression of Carinity was that it felt ‘homely’ and it had a great team of people that made me feel like I am meant to be at school.
“My life has changed since I came to Carinity by coming to school every day and going to class and having a go at the work the best that I can.”
Carinity Education Gladstone Principal Jane Greenland says many young people join the school community “with real anxiety and negative feelings about going to school and education”.
“They have struggled with the level of work and the difficulty in gaining support in the large mainstream schools which usually develops into school refusal, suspensions and expulsion,” Jane says.
“The majority of our young people suffer with anxiety, depression and trauma related concerns which are a huge barrier to being able to concentrate and cope with the school environment.
“We build a sense of community and family within our school environment. Students thrive in the smaller school and respond to our belief in unconditional positive regard.
“They learn from experiences and respond to our focus on building positive strong relationships between staff, students and carers.”
Youth Worker Sirayah Benjamin says Carinity Education, including Gladstone’s sister schools in Brisbane, Hervey Bay and Rockhampton, cater to all types of young people and that provides them with a successful path into the future.
“Some of the main challenges students face when coming to Carinity Education is recognising the change of environment within our school compared to a mainstream school,” Sirayah says.
“Often we see students enter with a negative attitude towards their education due to their past experiences. Our goal is to support them through these challenges and provide them with the opportunity to succeed.
“At Carinity, we focus on more than just education. We work as a team to educate the students on healthy ways to express their emotions, socialise with others and offer a safe environment for them to discover their personal identities.”
The coronavirus hurdle
As well as overcoming barriers to education and challenges like PTSD, the fear of not graduating and leaving school, Ambur has also had to weather the challenges presented by COVID-19 in her senior year.
For several months this year Carinity Education students such as Ambur learned remotely from home.
School youth workers delivered schoolwork to students who elected to remain home, empowering them to continue their learning during the coronavirus shutdown.
Staff regularly made hour-long return trips to deliver food packs to students in outlying towns.
“During the COVID-19 shutdown, Carinity Education Gladstone worked as a team to ensure that all students had their own individual work packs that included everything they needed to complete their work,” Sirayah says.
“I was involved in delivering these packs and delivering meals to students and checking in on their well-being.
“When we weren’t making deliveries, we would call every student, every day and check on their physical and mental health and support them with their school work.”
Some Carinity Education schools provided repurposed computers and computing equipment to students, so they could continue their learning from home.
“I managed to continue learning through COVID by having access to all my work. Also the youth workers and teachers kept in contact with me,” Ambur said.
Ambur is one of 16 students to graduate from Year 12 at Carinity Education Gladstone this year, the first cohort of students from the school to do so.
Five of the students, including Ambur, have been at the school since it opened in 2017.
“We are proud of the community we have created and have grown to having 111 students enrolled at the school,” Jane says.
“I believe this growth stems mainly from the positive word of mouth that has spread within the Gladstone area about the good things we do, the happiness of our students and the support we provide.”
For Jane, seeing her students graduate – some of around 50 departing Year 12s across four Carinity Education schools – stirs up a range of emotions.
“I have a sense of privilege to have had the opportunity to get to know these wonderful individuals and participate in their growth and learning, and a sense of pride in these young people and their determination to regain momentum with their education,” she says.
“Also, a sense of pride for my wonderful team of staff and the way they have all worked together tirelessly to support and encourage each and every one of our Year 12 cohort.
“However, I do have a sense of sadness that it is now time to say farewell to these beautiful young people that we love and care for and who will be missed.
“I am also excited about the opportunity to celebrate the students’ achievements, their individuality and the good that we know they will take into the world beyond school.”
Sirayah also feels ‘grateful’ to have had the opportunity to know the Year 12 students since they started at the school – and proud of their progress as learners and people.
“Their struggle has been real, but I have never been so proud of all of them. Recently I have been going through our school photos and the memories that have come up shows how much they have all grown,” Sirayah says.
“It is sad to see them go, and they will be missed. We cannot wait to see what they achieve after they graduate.”
A brighter future
All of Carinity Education Gladstone’s 2020 Year 12 graduates will leave with a Queensland Certificate of Education or vocational training certificates – or both – something Ambur once could not envision.
“Before I came to Carinity I always felt like I wouldn’t graduate,” says Ambur, who hopes to pursue a career as a youth worker or teacher aide because she wants to help people.
“Other schools either kicked students like me out or made us not feel wanted. Here we feel like it’s home and we always have someone to talk to.
“Carinity has given me and others a chance when other schools haven’t.”