Ausnew Home Care | After two years of COVID-19 pain, hope is shining

After two years of COVID-19 pain, hope is shining for Victoria's year 12 students

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As the sun creeps back out, Eddie Fejo is shaking off the last of the lockdown blues.

"I started getting like, a little bit depressed ... anxiety as well creeping in when you're just sitting indoors all day," the year 12 student reflects.

But on his final day of school, the 18-year-old is feeling "amazing".

Finishing high school is a massive moment for anyone, but Victoria's class of 2021 experienced a final two years of school unlike any other.

At the David Scott School on the breezy Mornington Peninsula, the pandemic has added an extra load for students already overcoming hurdles that many others don't face.

Eddie Fejo bounces a basketball as he moves across a court, in front of a brightly coloured mural with a tiger. Ausnew Home Care, NDIS registered provider, My Aged Care
Eddie is looking forward to getting into full-time work now that school is wrapping up.(ABC News: Danielle Bonica)

The school is run by the Brotherhood of St Laurence to deliver the Victorian Certificate of Applied Learning (VCAL) for students who've had a tough time getting through mainstream schooling.

Some students are under state care, while others might be couch surfing or between stable homes.

The school's principal, Catherine Arnold, says her students are a resilient bunch, but Melbourne's lockdown exacerbated some of the daily challenges they were already navigating.

"The impact of their living arrangements or the context they're living and operating in has impacted them," she explains.

While some students were able to study on site with exemptions, the pandemic posed a particular challenge for the holistic, hands-on approach of the school and the VCAL subjects.

The school's wellbeing team also had to "swing into full effect" to support not just students but the family and key relationships around them, to help ensure they weathered the pandemic safely.

Despite the challenges, Ms Arnold says the graduating class's success rates didn't take a "huge dive".

"I think it does speak volumes about the people who work here — it takes a huge kind of commitment, and the same for the kids," she says.

For 19-year-old Bridie Fahey, schools haven't always been a fun place.

For a while, she moved through schools where she felt unable to express her true self.

But at the David Scott School, she says she was "so welcomed and felt so accepted".

"Because I dress colourfully and I don't look like an average person I'd say, and they don't really care about that stuff, so it's good that I can express that stuff."

Bridie Fahey smiles for a portrait photograph under sunlight in the school playground.
Bridie Fahey is planning to pursue her passion for songwriting and music beyond the school gates.(ABC News: Danielle Bonica)

It's one of the reasons she's feeling that mix of intense emotions so many year 12s are hit with on their final day.

"I'm very excited, but I'm also very nervous. And I'm sad about leaving because I've been here for a while," she says.

Supporting students whose key milestones have been 'halted or muted'

While the students here and at schools across Victoria have been able to get back on site to enjoy the final rites of graduation, many have been missed.

Australian Psychological Society chief executive Zena Burgess says the loss of key adolescent milestones such as socials and formals has been difficult for students.

Zena Burgess
Zena Burgess says if you are concerned about a young person's mental health, contacting a GP or psychologist early is critically important.(ABC News: Darryl Torpy)

"All of those rituals that indicate to a year 12 student they are becoming an adult and coming into the next stage of their life have all been disrupted and removed," she explains.

That time away from peers has made it harder for adolescents, in a stage of life where they are already trying to understand others and themselves.

"The friendships at school have been disrupted, so there's uncertainty for teenagers about how their friends will treat them, how they'll interact with their friends," Dr Burgess says.

"Everything they had, in terms of structures that gave them a sense of self-esteem, has been halted or muted.

For anyone worried about how a younger person in their life is coping, Dr Burgess says listening and not minimising their experience can be a powerful first step.

"Although you might wish to say to them, 'Look it's not that bad, it's OK,' do not do that," she says.

"Just listen and try and understand what it's like for them, because it's a very uncertain world."

She also says young people should be encouraged to talk to their peers, who are their "key reference point".

If you are concerned that more help is needed, Dr Burgess says you should contact a GP or psychologist as soon as possible.

A reopening economy is helping smooth the path forward

A basketball thrown by Eddie Fejo is mid-air as it heads towards the hoop on a court at the school.
Eddie says his time at school has taught him the value of keeping himself focused on the things that matter.(ABC News: Danielle Bonica)

Back at Frankston, Eddie and Bridie's early fears that they may not land a job after school have melted in the past few weeks.

As businesses reawakened, Bridie got a call from a place she'd applied to before lockdown, asking her if she was still interested.

After a trial shift on Tuesday, she's set for a busy summer scooping ice creams.

Eddie, a young Larrakia man who moved from Darwin to get through his final years of school, has been able to come good on a promise to his nanna and has now landed a job in demolition.

"Just got to break this fish and chip shop apart, it was so good," he recalls.

They're both hoping to take steps towards making their musical passions a bigger part of their lives after school.

Bridie's preparing for an interview with an arts college where she hopes to hone her songwriting, singing, piano and guitar skills.

Bridie Fahey smiles as she sits at the piano and plays, dressed in a grey jumper with a bright rainbow design.
Bridie says music is an "amazing" part of her life, and it's a gift she often shares with the school community at the outdoor piano.(ABC News: Danielle Bonica)

And Eddie hopes to use the money he'll make in construction or another hands-on trade to build on his freestyle rap on the side.

But for now, Bridie and Eddie are taking a moment to enjoy the huge achievement they and their class have made this year, and to reflect on the wisdom they've gained in the past two years.

"Keep on pushing and trying," Bridie says.

"And keep going, don't give up, because you will get there."


Source: ABC

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