Alesco Senior College

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Alesco Senior College is an independent school in Tuncurry that supports students for whom mainstream schooling has proven to be difficult. With classes currently offered for Year 9 and 10 students, there are plans to extend the school’s offerings to Year 11 and 12 enrolments in future. Head Teacher Kate Townsend explains how the school is able to assist students …

Hi Kate. Introduce us to Alesco Senior College, Tuncurry. Why was this college established locally, and where is it located?

Alesco Senior College is an independent school that caters for students who have previously struggled to find success in a mainstream education setting. Alesco allows students to learn in an adult-like environment while studying Board of Studies curriculum and therefore be eligible to receive their Record of School Achievement (RoSA).

Alesco Senior College was first established in 2002 in Newcastle as an initiative of WEA Hunter. When WEA Hunter expanded to Forster/Tuncurry as WEA Coast, it opened up the opportunity for the successful Alesco model to also operate here. We are located diagonally across the road from the movie theatre in the WEA Coast building.

Alesco was established in the area, as there was a need for students who didn’t fit the traditional model of education to still be provided with the opportunity to complete their education. We enrol any student who experiences difficulty in being successful in their mainstream school. This difficulty is different for each student; for some it will be anxiety, depression or disengagement, for others it may be living in out of home care, lack of family support, unstable home situation or any other “road block” in the young person’s education.

We recognise these issues exist, we don’t ignore them; instead, we accept them, support them and nurture the needs of the student in order to take back control of their life and complete their education.

What’s your role at Alesco?

I’m the Head Teacher of Alesco Senior College, Tuncurry. This means I am heavily involved in the day to day and behind the scenes organisation of Alesco, and I also have teaching load – which I love too.

Every day is different for me! That’s what I love about my job! A typical day will see me sitting with students while they make their breakfast as part of our breakfast programme, teaching in the classroom, networking with local agencies, organising extra-curricular activities for our students, organising guest speakers to visit our students and coming up with ideas to continually engage our students in their education.

Every day I work closely with our Student Welfare Officer to make sure every student’s welfare and mental health needs are supported, as well as their academic needs. I seriously just love my job!

How do the teaching style and subject offerings differ from mainstream schools?

At Alesco staff work with students on a basis of empowerment rather than authority and control; our strengths-based approach sees each student being the centre of their own education plan that provides them with the best chance of educational success. We operate in a small, safe and supported school environment, which allows us to support the individual welfare and educational needs of our students. We ensure we provide a safe space for students, so we have a zero tolerance for violence and bullying, and our teacher to student/teacher ratio is smaller than in traditional education; we won’t ever exceed a 1:15 ratio.

Students study their core subjects at Alesco; these are the subjects needed to meet the Board of Studies requirements in order to be eligible for their RoSA. We also have time in our timetable for job ready skills and art and cooking projects.

In addition to our teaching staff, our Student Welfare Officer supports the social and welfare needs of our students. She works closely with other organisations in the community to provide support if a student is experiencing vulnerabilities due to a range of circumstances.

Together the Alesco staff highly support student needs (whatever they may be) which makes completing education a possibility.

Typically, what types of students enrol at Alesco – and what grades do you cater for?

Any student who has previously not found success in mainstream education. It is important to note that we are not a behaviour school or a timeout programme – we are an independent school who carefully selects students who need a little extra support or a smaller learning environment to finish their education. At the moment we cater for and are taking enrolments for Years 9 and 10, with the intention to expand to Years 11 and 12 in the future.

How do you provide opportunities for students to engage with their local community?

Wow, so many ways! Throughout the year we upskill our students with employability skills and students who are ready can participate in work experience once a week in the local community.

As part of Harmony Day, we will be running activities at local preschools to help them celebrate; Youth Week will see community members come to our school to run workshops and presentations. We are keen to get out into the community, and I encourage organisations to contact us if they are interested in working with us.

How do you help students become ready for employment or further studies?

Students follow Board of Studies syllabuses and meet all the relevant requirements to be able to receive their RoSA if they choose to leave school at the end of Year 10 or to go on and complete their HSC.

Employability skills are really important to us, and we make every effort to prepare students for employment because we recognise how important employment is and how difficult it can be to secure. As well as Work Experience, we teach students how to write a resume, dress for an interview and apply for a job, and sometimes we play out a mock interview situation. We recognise the industries in the local area that are able to provide employment opportunities, and we help students build a little portfolio of work ready skills, like their First Aid Certificate, Barista Certificate and Hospitality safe food skills.

What is the fee structure for students?

We have an annual school fee of $50. Part of our educational philosophy is that we believe a young person’s circumstances (including financial hardship) should not negatively impact their educational success.

Fortunately, we are in a position where we are able to supply students with everything they need to learn – books, pens, calculators etc. Local business have been very supportive of Alesco, and this has allowed us to run a breakfast and lunch programme where students can use the kitchen and make breakfast and lunch. Essentially, a student can turn up with nothing and still have a productive day at school.

Where can people find more info?

On our website or contact Kate on (02) 6554 9215

Thanks Kate.

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