Finishing high school is a massive moment for anyone, but Victoria’s class of 2021 experienced a final two years of school unlike any other.
At the David Scott School, the pandemic has added an extra load for students already overcoming hurdles that many others don’t face.
The school is run by the Brotherhood of St Laurence to deliver the Victorian Certificate of Applied Learning (VCAL) for students who’ve had a tough time getting through mainstream schooling.
Some students are under state care, while others might be couch surfing or between stable homes.
The school’s principal, Catherine Arnold, says her students are a resilient bunch, but Melbourne’s lockdown exacerbated some of the daily challenges they were already navigating.
“The impact of their living arrangements or the context they’re living and operating in has impacted them,” she explains.
“You know, we didn’t have a lot of kids who had access to computers, so they were doing lessons off their phone.”
While some students were able to study on site with exemptions, the pandemic posed a particular challenge for the holistic, hands-on approach of the school and the VCAL subjects.
The school’s wellbeing team also had to “swing into full effect” to support not just students but the family and key relationships around them, to help ensure they weathered the pandemic safely.
Despite the challenges, Ms Arnold says the graduating class’s success rates didn’t take a “huge dive”.
“I think it does speak volumes about the people who work here — it takes a huge kind of commitment, and the same for the kids,” she says.
For 19-year-old Bridie Fahey, schools haven’t always been a fun place.
For a while, she moved through schools where she felt unable to express her true self.
But at the David Scott School, she says she was “so welcomed and felt so accepted”.
“Because I dress colourfully and I don’t look like an average person I’d say, and they don’t really care about that stuff, so it’s good that I can express that stuff.”
It’s one of the reasons she’s feeling that mix of intense emotions so many year 12s are hit with on their final day.
“I’m very excited, but I’m also very nervous. And I’m sad about leaving because I’ve been here for a while,” she says.