THE school may be unconventional and some may consider the students problematic but Western Sydney principal Carolyn Blanden says every day at Warakirri College is inspiring.
Having spent 30 years teaching at a mix of elite private and independent schools, Ms Blanden said her role at the helm of Warakirri’s Blacktown and Fairfield campuses is some of her most important work yet.
“If I could give just some of the students an opportunity and a chance to make their lives better, fulfilling and more positive than they are at the moment, I will look back on my career and say it has been worthwhile,” she said.
And many would attest that Ms Blanden has done just that at the independent school for students who feel disconnected from the mainstream classroom.
The college caters to 15-22 year olds who find the conventional school system isn’t for them – or as Ms Blanden describes: “Mainstream schools either don’t want them or can’t accept their long absences as a result of being in juvenile detention or because they have mental health challenges or come from complex family backgrounds. What we do is breakdown the barriers that inhibit them from going to school and receiving a Record of School Achievement or an ATAR.”
It’s a vocation Ms Blanden said she wasn’t immediately drawn to, almost overlooking teaching for a career in medicine, but a choice she has never regretted.
“I decided that teaching was as important as medicine but in a funny way the implications can be even longer lasting,” she said.
That drive to ensure every student realises their potential was at the forefront of Ms Blanden’s mind when she delivered an inspiring speech to the Zonta Club of Sydney Hills recently.
“There are a great many things we can do with whatever we have, be it time or expertise or things we can donate, to ensure no woman is left behind,” she said.
“But also the fact is there exists this old boy’s network that is based on men supporting other men. I strongly believe that women’s support is different in that if we support a woman, we are not only supporting her but we’re supporting a family and a community.
“When we give help to women, it is far reaching.”
That’s particularly true at Warakirri College where staff offer support to students who otherwise fall through the cracks.
And the results speak for themselves. When enrolled in the mainstream education system, the attendance rate of some students was as low as six per cent. At Warakirri College, students attend as much as 90 per cent of the time, Ms Blanden said.
“When you start seeing someone come out of their shell, become socially confident, start developing self-control or self-discipline, these are really important successes that don’t show up on an ATAR,” she said.
“Although they are street-wise, these students haven’t had the opportunities that most kids have had. So we take them to the zoo or go on bushwalks and in that sense we are a family as well here.
“We all find it particularly difficult from time to time because of the intensity and seriousness of the issues these students experience but I try really hard to look at the bigger picture.
“I’ve worked at the other end of the spectrum most of my life and I enjoyed that but this is the most important job I’ve ever done.”
Warakirri College is an initiative of MTC Australia and although government funded it also requires corporate donations for student meals, books and excursions. To make a donation, contact the school on 9914 3250.