My daughter, Jessie, was finally enrolled at Sydney Distance Education High School at the end of term 3 this year.
Initially we were sent a starter pack of 3 weeks work to be completed. With it came an information booklet with templates for timetables and record keeping which is great. Prepaid, labelled envelopes are provided making returning completed work hassle free and straightforward.
The campus is located in Woolloomooloo and the students are encouraged to attend the events they have. They really want the kids to feel like they’re still part of a schooling community. Students are welcome to visit at anytime to see their teachers or have a look around. We are going to the Presentation Day in early December. It will be good to put faces to names and voices.
It’s been a rocky start with the schoolwork, mainly due to motivation, or lack of actually. Jessie completed week 1 and some of week two’s work. She then cracked it and tore the rest up all over her bedroom floor. She was yelling and swearing – “they can’t make me do this shit. Fuck this, I’m never going to do any work, I don’t give a fuck” and it went on. Teachers are fucked, they need to respect her, they treat students like shit, that kind of thing. I let her finish her rant, acknowledged I could see she was angry about teachers and feeling like she is being forced to do school work. And the raging beast is tamed once again.
Jessie’s roll call teacher was called and I explained the situation. I expressed to her I was a bit worried that I wasn’t going to be able to get Jessie to do anymore work. She was so unphased by my news, it was extremely reassuring. I was told not to worry, to leave Jessie’s schooling responsibilities to them.
Jessie’s story was nothing new to them, and her reluctance wasn’t a shock in the slightest. From our conversation I think it would’ve been a shock to them if Jessie had slotted straight back in! Re-engaging kids with school is something each teacher I’ve spoken with seems completely skilled for.
As for the torn up work, meh, also something they are used to. Jessie’s next lot of work after the starter pack was sent out. Another 3 weeks work to be started after the school holidays.
These school holidays meant a trip to visit my second cousins who live in the country where I grew up. I packed a week’s work hoping Jessie might make a start up there. Being two retired teachers she would have plenty of knowledgeable help from them. Not that it’s help with the work she needs, it’s enthusiasm she lacks, not intelligence. When I talked with her about her motivation one time she said to me “I’m highly motivated – highly motivated to do nothing!”. I still find it amusing – not the lack of motivation, the phrase!
Our trip nearly had the plug pulled on it. Late on the night we were meant to be leaving there was a serious loss of control. All over school work. It was the closest I’d come to needing to call the Police in nearly 3 years. (There are lots of 3’s in this I’ve just realised.) On the bedroom floor was 2 whole weeks work, her music subject cd, my record sheet, my entire diary (?!). She quite proudly returned the cover to me. I was angry at the time but it’s really very funny reliving that short scene.
The school, again something they do all the time, re-issued the destroyed work. It just hit me why I’m loving this school. At Jessie’s previous school, she was different and misunderstood. Her issues created a lot of concern. With SDEHS, she is not a problem, nothing’s a concern, they have it all under control. Kids like Jessie make up 60% of their students. They’ve been dealing with kids like this for years and know what they’re doing.
We had a very successful home visit from Robert O’Brien from SDEHS last week. It was a positive start to the morning. Jessie got out of bed, had a shower and got dressed. I was so relieved. Robert was able to engage Jessie from the moment he got there which is a testament to him in itself. They chatted about what she likes to do with her time. She impressed him as she has still been learning about things she’s interested in. He talked openly about how much time she had missed, and how that can make it harder getting back into doing school work. But he went through timetable templates and explained to Jessie the goal of getting at least 2 subjects done a day. We were also given the goal to aim for for the rest of the year as far as completion of work.
My record keeping was checked and a gold star to me. Robert was curious as to what position I held in my last job – something requiring great organisational skills he thought! Apparently 1 in 6 parents don’t bother at all with the paperwork, and most new parents wait until the first visit. I was given a detailed printout of all of Jessie’s teachers names. Included were their emails and telephone numbers, and we were both encouraged to call them anytime for help. Fabulous!
Robert got Jessie to bring out her laptop and showed her how to login to the school website. She was shown how to check her messages, and access the e-learning site for her online work. He’d advised Jessie earlier that he was going to get her to do a booklet of work while he was there.
After looking over the website asked her which was her least favourite subject. Maths was the confident and immediate reply. Just as confidently and immediately Robert said ‘Great! We’ll do maths then’. That was met with a groan and the rolling of eyes she is famous for, but no further resistance.
I had to admit that I hadn’t bought a new calculator after her last one met with foul play. He smiled and said to Tayah ‘did you break it?’. She clearly picked up on his amusement and complete lack of negative judgement. She smiled back and openly admitted that she threw it against the wall. He chuckled and asked where she threw it, so she showed him which wall she threw it at. He wanted to know if it smashed into pieces or not, so Tayah told him all about it. And that was a bit of therapy for her right there.
Today we received a new calculator Robert sent her for free. I laughed, the note with it read ‘Tayah and Kat, here is your new (modern) calculator.’ Tayah had had to use my old scientific calculator I still have from high school!
We were told about tutoring that’s held each Tuesday and Wednesday in our local area. Tayah said she wouldn’t feel comfortable because of the other kids there. The time was taken to explain to Tayah about the kids that attend. Robert told her that all the kids are exactly like her. They are really nervous meeting new kids because of their issues too.
He told her of the immense struggle it has been for some to even show up. Some don’t stay all day, one boy sits in a small room by himself because he just can’t deal with being around the others. He kept assuring Tayah that she didn’t have to talk to anyone of she didn’t want to. The other option with tutoring is that one of the tutors will come to our home. All opportunities are provided and I feel so supported.
SDEHS was running a 3 day adventure camp this week that was offered to Tayah. Unfortunately it was declined, but I have a feeling she will be keen next time. Department of Sport & Rec run adventure camps and she has been to 6 camps before turning 12. Activities include abseiling, rock climbing, a big bungy swing etc – she loves it. She was given encouragement and reassurance again that all the kids are just like her, and she didn’t have to talk to anyone if she didn’t want to. I think that she will gain confidence knowing she won’t be forced into anything.
Knowing that the staff there can handle things positively factor into it as well. Her last Dept Sport & Rec camp didn’t end so well and I know that has stuck with her. Two girls were bullying Tayah and she shut down because the adults weren’t listening. I was called to come and pick her up on the second last day. When I rang the next day to find out what happened, the truth had come out. One girl was banned from the camps forever. Other girls revealed they had been telling Tayah to go kill herself, amongst other things. We received a huge apology, but the damage was done for Tayah. A new experience will change that for her.
Something I didn’t know but am grateful it was discussed with me, was our eligibility for Centrelink’s Assistance for Isolated Students Payment. I had seen it in the information booklet, but living in Sydney hadn’t considered us isolated. But under the definition we are eligible as Tayah is isolated from normal schooling due to her mental health issues.
The payment of a little over $4000 p.a. and in my circumstance is paid at the beginning of each term. It’s primarily to help pay for internet, computer maintenance, phone, school items etc. If the schoolwork isn’t completed consistently, the money can be recovered which could be a downfall. I’ve already used it as a bargaining tool with Tayah! The payment is tax free and doesn’t affect any benefits being received already. Payment is backdated to date of student enrolment.
We just need to get a few more weeks work in to show consistency and then I can apply. It’s a nice amount of money, but no amount of money makes the fact that your child is broken any easier to bear.
After our first visit I have absolutely no doubts about the competency of the staff in being able to manage Tayah. Tayah has also said that she now feels motivated. Knowing that so many of the other kids are just like her, with her same fears and insecurities, was reassuring. She said it made her feel more normal. All last week’s work was completed and returned, and I have this week’s work completed already (it’s Wednesday), and ready to send off tomorrow. Brilliant!
I’m so, so proud of Tayah. All work was completed due to her own motivation, and she’s put in effort and done all the work well. I’m so relieved, I really started to think Tayah was going to refuse any further education. Just goes to show kids just need the right environment. The public school system was not it for her.