Applause and tears as graduates bid farewell

Hearts filled with pride and joy as 10 students with disability graduated Year 12, clapped out through the traditional arch. Linda Doherty reports.

Students and teachers in a group photo. Students and teachers in a group photo.
Image: Les Powell School Year 12 students with principal Greta McCann and staff at the graduation ceremony.

There wasn’t a dry eye in the audience when Les Powell School principal Greta McCann paid tribute to 10 non-verbal students who today completed 13 years of education.

“Farewell and best wishes Year 12 of 2023. You have a place in our hearts, and you will be greatly missed,” she said.

Ms McCann highlighted the love and support of the students’ parents and carers, which had enabled them “to reach this point in their life”.

And to the teachers and support staff, Ms McCann spoke of their unconditional support and inspiration.

“Your planning, teaching, and encouraging has allowed them to grow and develop, and I know that you are so proud of how far each student has come.”

The rite of passage of finishing Year 12 has seen the students learn alongside their individual challenges, which include autism, epilepsy, vision and hearing impairment and anxiety.

Some of the students have been at the school since Kindergarten. They all studied the adjusted curriculum, Life Skills, in Year 12 and most will now transition to community participation programs.

Stage 6 Life Skills courses provide options for students in Schools for Specific Purposes and mainstream schools who cannot access the regular curriculum.

Last year, 2121 NSW students completed one or more Life Skills courses, which was three per cent of the total HSC cohort. This year 2344 students were enrolled in at least one HSC Life Skills course.

Most of the 73 students at the Mount Pritchard school in Sydney’s south-west are from non-English-speaking backgrounds – and many of their parents were at the school today as the Year 12 students were clapped out through a balloon arch.

“Like all parents, they are so proud and emotional to see these young people finish 13 years of education,” Ms McCann said.

The school uses eye gaze technology and visual aids to teach non-verbal students. It has a Mini Woollies to teach retail skills at school as well as extensive music, arts and swimming programs.

A student and teacher in front of a banner. A student and teacher in front of a banner.
Image: Year 12 student Amsi Kashaoshana with principal Greta McCann.

At the students’ graduation dinner, teachers spoke of each student’s unique qualities. Some excerpts are printed below:

Teacher Tina Clifton about student Alannah Quach: “Alannah has been at Les Powell school all the way through from Kindergarten to Year 12. She is much loved by all the staff, as they have watched her grow into a beautiful young lady. Alannah, or as we affectionately call her ‘Alannah Banana’ is strong, knows what she wants and is always happy.”

Teacher Cassandra Barlow about student Kassem Charbaji: “You have brought the sunshine to each and every person who has met you and acquired an uncanny knack at shaking your heart out every time ‘Jingle Bells’ is played in Music … Kassem, the last two years have been more than a pleasure. You have taught me so much.”

Teacher Marise Ayoub about student Mohammad Sufiyan: “You have a big personality that fills the classroom with a playful mood. The way you express yourself through eye contact, vocalisations and body language is wonderful. We all admire how you happily initiate interactions to connect with your staff and peers.”

Assistant Principal Jyoutsna Gupta about student Andreh Yousif: Andreh has been at Les Powell from Kindy. It was my pleasure to have him in my class during the last year of his schooling. He is quite adventurous and likes to hide in boxes, under mattresses, and search for any item of his interest. Good luck with the new phase of your life, Andreh. We will miss you.”

A student in a wheelchair with a teacher on a red carpet under a balloon arch. A student in a wheelchair with a teacher on a red carpet under a balloon arch.
Image: Graduate Alannah Quach on the red carpet with Student Learning Support Officer Ranjana Sharma.
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