From struggle street to role model

I grew up with a single mum. She raised me and my brother and she had a pretty hard life. She used to work in business but then when she became a single mum she started cleaning. We had it pretty hard when we were little. I remember she used to ride her bike from house to house cleaning because we couldn’t afford a car.

There were periods of time when my family suffered homelessness. When I started school in primary school everything seemed quite normal. I’d grown up thinking that this is how normal families function. In primary school I loved going to school and seeing my friends – I was really engaged.

In Year 7, I started hanging around bad crowds of people and not going to school. By the time I was in Year 8, I’d transitioned through three separate schools and that’s how I ended up at The Pavilion School. When I went to that school, I was the youngest person they’d had.

For the first couple of years I wasn’t really attending school. Lots of my friends had got into drugs and even I battled a bit with addiction. It was actually the breaking down of friends’ lives around me that made me start going back to school.

It was about half way through Year 10 when one of my teachers started to make a genuine effort with me. Her name was Danielle Norton. She was really helpful and was my teacher for a number of years. She started giving me work from the Distance Education Centre.

I completed Year 12 over three years. In my first year of Year 12, I was taught by Mel Henry. She was really supportive and understood that I was smarter than I thought. Although I’d been re-engaged back into education, she gave me a belief that I was actually capable of doing more.

She convinced me to take two university subjects while I was in my second year of Year 12. At this point I wasn’t thinking about going to university, I was just doing it as part of my VCE and I think her pressuring me a bit into tackling uni subjects made me realise that I was smart. In that program, I actually ended up getting the highest mark out of all schools that participated for two Law subjects at La Trobe.

Her influence in helping me realise that I was smart, drove me to get high marks. Mel was helpful in making me way more productive and actually putting the pressure on to do well. I remember being in her class and everything was always a big operation.

We had students working on different things at different times and everyone was always really productive. It was like organised chaos every day. Mel showed me it’s cool to be smart. I’d never realised that before I had her as a teacher.

That’s how I got my entry into university. I was the only student from the Pavilion School who has ever gone through the process of finishing VCE. At university, I was surrounded by private school kids and even I was a bit shocked when they gave me an award for getting the highest marks. I thought, “Wow, I didn’t think that would happen.”

Since graduating from school, I’ve been working at the Fair Work Commission and at La Trobe University as part of the school partnerships program. We introduce students from disadvantaged schools in the northern suburbs to university and I share my story with them about where I came from and how I got to university. I was also working with the VCE plus program for a while, mentoring students who were taking Year 12 subjects while in uni.

I still work with a lot of the students at the Pavilion School. When they come out to La Trobe, I tell them, “I went to your school and now I’m here.” Sometimes they turn around and say, “I want to go to uni, too.”

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