- Making friends and fitting in dwell heavy on the minds of new high school students.
- But for legally blind Christopher McLeod-Barrett, there's a whole lot more to navigate on his first day of year 7, starting with the countless flights of stairs and a minefield of poles around the playground.
"What's probably been most challenging is that there's like 30 different levels here," the 12-year-old said of his new school, Spinifex State College, in the rural Queensland city of Mount Isa.
But should the bright, young lad trip up, he's got a community of supporters cheering him on and the school's head of special education, Helen Little, by his side.
It takes a village
A modern-day Miss Honey, Helen devoted the past 18 months to ensuring Christopher hit the ground running come the chime of first school bell for 2022.
As the first vision imp[aired student at the school, significant preparations were needed to accommodate Christopher.
"The journey started about 18 months ago when we did a transition meeting looking at our campus and the facilities we had and what we needed to do to get ready," Ms Little said.
Since then, she has led the charge, ensuring facilities are modified, equipment is acquired, and staff are trained.
"So far, I've prepared my staff; we've been doing workshops.
Ms Little visited the Narbethong Special School, Brisbane, where statewide vision impairment services are based, to look at an alternate format library.
"Narbethong staff also came up to Townsville to meet two of our staff to learn about tactile learning and get that ready for the classroom.
"I have two teachers' aides that have started an online course on braille," Ms Little said.
Funding an equal education
Planning for Christopher's start at the school hasn't been cheap and he is still waiting on the NDIS to approve funding for a braille machine.
"I did a costing at one stage and it was going to cost our school about $22,000 to get ready to have him," Ms Little said.
Funding for school students with disabilities is through the federal government.
It works on a tiered model, and although advocates say it has improved since the Disability Royal Commission, they believe there's still work to do.
Mary Sayers is the CEO at Children and Young People with Disabilities Australia. She said more work was required to eradicate barriers to much-needed funding for students with disabilities.
"We need needs-based funding that actually follows the student, so that if they do require accommodations they're made without questions and families are not made to feel as if they're begging for inclusion," she said.
'A friend you can trust'
Over the past school holidays, Christopher attended transition days to meet new students and get the lay of the land.
He said the warmth from the people surrounding him had bolstered his confidence.
"I've already made a few new friends over the transition days," he said.
"But the number of friends you have doesn't matter. All you need is a friend you can truly trust. And I'm lucky enough to have that friend who's stuck with me for our entire schooling and now here.
Gifted with a keen intellect and a cheeky wit, Christopher's vision for the future couldn't be clearer.
"I want to be on radio as a football presenter," he said.
The 12-year-old has already racked up a few years' work experience as a sports caller on ABC Grandstand.
Those around him believe the sky is the limit for Christopher and can't wait to see him succeed.
"He can do anything," said Christopher's former principal at Sunset primary school, Bryon Burke.
"He's immensely competent in achieving whatever he wants to
Ms Little says she'll be there to prop him up with whatever he needs.
"I'm excited," she said. "He has a vision that will propel him into a very bright future."