Passionate staff and firm friendships at his local public school helped make high school a joy for recent graduate Alex Graham and his family.
Alex, a former Turramurra High School student with cerebral palsy, required accessibility adjustments in order to participate in activities in and out of the classroom, but staff found creative solutions to ensure he was included in every aspect of school life.
Friends said some of their favourite memories of Alex were made on the oval, with soccer a favourite game to play together. Alex had always run athletics carnival races in his power chair, but PDHPE teacher Inoke 'Mr T' Tuphukava and Learning and Support Teacher Brianne Balfoort became concerned he was being left out of the annual swimming carnival and time spent with other students while they changed for PE.
"I thought well how can we actually get Al in the pool going forward for swimming carnivals, and we were able to get a kayak and with that kayak we were able to work out a way to get him in," Mr Tuphukava said. "Where there's a will there's a way."
"Something like having Mr T pushing the kayak when Alex is at the swimming carnival is amazing," said Ms Balfoort. "That's what he needs, you know? Putting him in to a change room so he could hear the banter of the other students? Amazing."
Principal David Arblaster and Head Teacher - Home Economics Julie Arrigo echoed that while some adjustments were necessary, having Al at school was beneficial to both staff and other students.
"We found out probably 18 months before Al started that he would be coming to Turramurra High school," said Mr Arblaster. "There was a lot of thinking about what would need to change at the school, a lot of work to do, and all with a focus of making sure things were ready for him."
"I think the biggest thing about staff readiness was about mindsets. Some people felt quite daunted by the prospect of trying to provide an inclusive education for Al, [but] there were other people on staff that said 'great, let's go, this is going to be fun' and they made it work."
'I had Al in food technology in the senior school," Ms Arrigo said. "[He] was very enthusiastic, especially in practical lessons so it was wonderful to have him in there. He showed the students another way of having to do things."
Like Alex, 97% of students with disabilities in NSW attend a mainstream public school. One important focus of the Department's Disability Strategy is ensuring the experience of families of students with disability is supportive, transparent and straightforward in every educational setting.
Hear more from Alex's Turramurra High School teachers and classmates in the video Al's Story from Family Advocacy, embedded above.