As Principal of Warakirri College, Carolyn Blanden oversees both the Fairfield and Blacktown campuses – and is witness to the many daily challenges and joyful moments that make up student life at the school.
The majority of my career has been in education: teaching, working as a Boarding Housemaster, Deputy Principal and Principal. I have also worked extensively for the former Board of Studies, and in business.
However, the best job I’ve ever had has been as Principal of Warakirri College. It is such an honour to work with young people who desperately need a second chance. When I hear some of their stories at the enrolment interviews I’m often shocked by their experiences and the challenges they face. I feel very privileged to be able to help them get their lives back on track and enjoy the opportunities that come from completing their schooling.
It is so rewarding to see them at graduation, supported by multiple family members who tell me: “This is the first person in our family to finish Year 10 or get the HSC!”
Life at Warakirri College
There are no typical days at Warakirri!
Many of our students have disconnected from mainstream education or cannot get a place in a traditional school. Some have mental health challenges, like anxiety and depression, that prevent them attending a large school. Our small friendly classrooms and family atmosphere enable them to cope better, and they’re able to complete their schooling instead of dropping out.
Some students face enormous life challenges. Often school is the only stable part of their lives, and the only source of support. We help by providing counselling, food and even clothing if it’s needed, and referrals to therapists, Transition to Work providers and other educational institutions. We also provide all books and teaching materials and there are no fees.
We run quite a lot of excursions, such as to plays, career expos, the Museum of Disease (which has some really gory displays!), Taronga Zoo and the mangrove swamps at Bicentennial Park.
The Australian bush and beach can both be very dangerous if you haven’t been shown how to keep safe. To combat this we organise outdoor education experiences like bushwalks and camps, which are usually funded by grants. For example, we used grant money to give our Fairfield students swimming lessons.
The teachers at Warakirri
Our classrooms tend to be very flexible and friendly places. The student-teacher ratio means that our students receive lots of one-on-one help.
Our teachers are very special. Perhaps their most noticeable quality is their genuine concern for the students. They are forgiving and understanding because they see the big picture, they understand that some young people are in very difficult situations.
We are extremely fortunate to have such an exceptional team. The impact of a good teacher on a young person is pivotal in developing their identity and self-image. A teacher who is caring, inspirational and enables students to see themselves as successful learners and worthwhile human beings can have a large positive effect on the community.
Warakirri student snapshot: Rhiannon
Rhiannon came to Warakirri suffering such bad anxiety that she couldn’t do an oral presentation unless the classroom was empty and the teacher was hiding under the desk listening to her. She had very low self-esteem and wasn’t coping at her mainstream school.
She achieved excellent results in her HSC and graduated as Dux of Year 12. Warakirri provided lots of support with her university application. One teacher accompanied her to several campuses, talked to lecturers and helped with the UAC application.
Currently Rhiannon is really enjoying studying Forensic Science at the Western Sydney University Hawkesbury campus, as well as tutoring other students.
She is much more confident now and has a bright future ahead of her.
Warakirri student snapshot: Elia
Elia had been enrolled in various schools overseas but was finding it difficult to settle into a mainstream school in Australia, so she came to Warakirri. She completed her HSC with us, and became the official school photographer in the process!
After school, Elia started working in the hospitality industry and kept on being promoted. She’s now working full time as a function centre manager and is part of a management training program. She let us know that she’s planning to study events management and wants to open her own function centre one day.
It’s wonderful to see her happy and relaxed, and confident in her ability to be successful in the workplace and the community.
Warakirri student snapshot: Cheyenne
Cheyenne came to Warakirri after an unhappy time at several mainstream schools. His anger management problems had led to difficulties with peers and teachers. The smaller, friendly environment at Warakirri helped Cheyenne control his anger and he was able to successfully complete his RoSA.
Cheyenne is now working as an apprentice plumber. He is happy and confident, and it is such a delight to see him when he comes back to visit his friends and teachers.
Warakirri College: A different kind of school
Warakirri College is an independent high school for young people completing Year 10 (RoSA: Record of School Achievement) and Year 12 (Higher School Certificate). Students are aged between 15 and 22 and have either disconnected from mainstream education or did not feel comfortable in a traditional school.
For more information, or to arrange an interview and inspection of a school, please phone the Warakirri College reception desk on (02) 9914 3250.