Special guests including The Hon. Mark Taylor MP, Blacktown Mayor Stephen Bali MP, and Councillor Reena Jethi from the Hills Shire Council joined students and teachers in celebration of their brand new science lab and kitchen.
There was excitement in the air at Warakirri College Blacktown on the morning of Tuesday 19 February, as students and teachers were joined by special guests to celebrate their new multipurpose laboratory, designed to host Science, Biology, Food Technology and Living Skills classes. It includes a fully functioning science lab and preparation room with prep benches and chemical storage, as well as a multiple station kitchen equipped with ovens, gas cooktops, fridge, double sink, stainless steel prep benches and fume extractor.
Warakirri College Principal Carolyn Blanden was joined at the podium by Maths & Science Teacher Prathapan Thillainathan and Food Technology Teacher Rebecca Stephens, before a plaque signifying the event was unveiled by Mark Taylor MP, member for Seven Hills.
“It’s a pleasure to open such fantastic facilities today,” says Mark. “The learning environment provided at Warakirri is second to none. I was honoured to meet so many students who will be greatly benefited by the new science and food technology facilities.
“I admire the great work being done by Warrakirri’s wonderful staff and Principal Carolyn Blanden who has much to be proud of.”
The next generation of scientists
The new laboratory will allow students to design and conduct a wider variety of controlled experiments to collect reliable first-hand data. Science Teacher Prathapan Thillainathan is absolutely delighted with the opportunities the new space presents.
“We used to do a lot of improvisational experiments in a regular classroom – such as creating chemical compounds out of marshmallows and toothpicks – but there’s nothing like being in a lab,” says Prathapan. “It’s going to get a lot more interesting. We’re going to be doing chemical experiments, letting the students see the spectacle of chemistry.
“It means so much, the prospect of being able to teach science in a meaningful way and let the students feel like they’re actual scientists in a lab. It’s really inspiring for them to see what they can aspire to.”
“Warakirri is providing so much to our young students and young adults,” says Hills Shire Councillor Reena Jethi, who comes from a teaching background herself. “It’s very important for them to have a facility like this. The College has done a lot without it, but this will give them an edge and enhance the opportunities for kids in terms of real experience.”
Food, glorious food
Warakirri’s Food Technology students now have a dedicated space to plan, prepare, present, and evaluate their creations.
“I’m so excited to get the kids up on their feet, learning by doing!” says Food Tech Teacher Rebecca Stephens. “The first thing we cooked in here were kids’ birthday cakes from the famous Women’s Weekly Children’s Birthday Cake Book. We’re looking at the history of food in Australia as part of a topic about food availability and why we choose what we cook.
“The reaction from the students to this space has been really interesting – they’re in here hanging out with me during recess and lunch. They can’t stay away, they’re really drawn to it. They told me they love it in here, they feel comfortable and really welcome, they know that it’s theirs.”
“I think we are going to learn some really great life skills in here,” said Warakirri student Maverick M. “There’s so much room and freedom. It’s exciting because it’s an actual, real kitchen, not just some frypans in an old room! It makes me feel so hopeful and excited because it’s brand new.”
Principal Carolyn Blanden explains that most of the students have disconnected from mainstream schools and much prefer the smaller classes and informal approach to learning that Warakirri offers. “This approach is so much better when learning is experiential – besides which, it’s so much fun when you can eat the magnificent food you have just learned to cook!” she laughs.
A speedy construction
The design and briefing process took about six weeks, with actual construction scheduled for a tight four weeks during the school holidays.
Keith Sheppard, one of the builders from Sydney Office Fitout who worked on the project, was proud of what his team achieved amid tight budgetary and time constraints. “For us it’s really satisfying to see the staff and students enjoying it – being challenged and learning in the environment we created,” he explains.
Funding for the project was provided by the NSW Government, with administrative support from The Association of Independent Schools.
“We are most grateful to the Department of Education for their generous support of this project which will enable our students to develop new skills and enjoy their classes in an innovative, inspiring learning space,” says Carolyn.
“The city of Blacktown is about to go through a massive transformation with a new university coming in,” says Blacktown Mayor Stephen Bali. “There will be 5,000 students in Blacktown in the next 5 to 10 years which then creates new nightlife, new restaurant precincts. There will be various opportunities available for chefs. These kids have an opportunity to try out this career now. Even if they don’t go into food, they’ll learn good food hygiene and nutrition, and they’ll be able to take that back to their own communities.
“There are so many opportunities that we may not even envisage at the moment. These kids will make fantastic role models for the next generation.”
About Warakirri College
Warakirri College is an independent high school for young people aged 15–22 completing their Year 10 and Higher School Certificate. Students have disconnected from mainstream schools due to peer relations difficulties like bullying or gender issues, mental health challenges such as anxiety or depression, complex family backgrounds, refugee experience or parenthood.
Warakirri is an independent high school with campuses at Fairfield and Blacktown. As a social impact initiative of MTC Australia, students do not pay fees and are provided with textbooks, food and other resources. Graduates typically progress to University, TAFE, private colleges and employment.