Warilla High wins community award
If we could talk to the animals, students at Warilla High School would never stop chatting with lizards, tortoises, birds and chooks at home in the school grounds.
But it is not only the animal kingdom that stirs passions at the Wollongong high school.
Its focus on links with the community has helped the school win the 2010 Cohesive Community School Award - given to just one NSW school - government or non-government.
Warilla principal Glenn Isemonger said the school seized every chance to create opportunities for students and in turn looked at opportunities for students to help in the community.
Mr Isemonger said the diverse range of activities undertaken at the school reflected the different cultures, including Indigenous and Islander populations, within the 1250-strong school community.
He said the school worked with community organisations to ensure students had access to work experience, work placements, traineeships and work skills programs.
"Our homework centre is strongly supported by Shellharbour Council and Wollongong University through their AIME (Indigenous mentoring) program," he said. "We [also] have a talented sports initiative strongly supported by Warilla Bowling Club."
But it is not all hard work. Last year the school ran a refugee Christmas party for newly arrived refugee students at the local Intensive English Centre and the school also had a Koori Christmas party involving the Indigenous community and a local Koori men's group.
"During the year our volunteering activities included weekly nursing home visits, creating hampers for the needy, student mentoring and raising more than $15,000 for St Vincent de Paul. Also the SRC has been highly supportive of a wide range of charities - from the Shave for a Cure to Jeans for Genes.
"Last year more than 600 students were involved in at least one volunteering activity - a three-fold increase from 2009," Mr Isemonger said.
Warilla High School was thriving, he said, despite being part of a community with high youth unemployment.
Mr Isemonger said the school had built fantastic relationships between staff, students, parents and the community.
"The local community recognises and respects what we have achieved. This has resulted in an increase in work experience opportunities for our students," Mr Isemonger said.
"Our students enjoy and recognise the benefits of coming to school - we have one the lowest absenteeism rates in the region. We encourage our students to achieve their personal best.
"We believe in them and they in return believe in what they can achieve."
The department's acting director-general, Pam Christie presented Warilla High School with the award.
"Warilla High School is a remarkable school, with committed teachers who work tirelessly to support students in their schooling and community endeavours," Ms Christie said.
Public schools that received a special commendation
Auburn North Public School
Chifley College, Bidwill Campus
Cringila Public School
Marrickville West Public School
Randwick Girls High School
Robert Townson High School and Robert Townson Public School
Tabulam Public School
Wee Waa High School and Wee Waa Public School
Woolgoolga High School
Photo by Benjamin Townsend.