The fee-free co-educational Special Assistance School will be located on a 4ha site on Peachey Road, Davoren Park.
Head of Village Kelly Bunyon is leading the work to establish the purpose-built school ahead of its opening in January next year, with enrolments expected to grow from 60 to 120 by 2025.
Kelly said there was a large number of students who exit school early for various reasons including mental health challenges, family issues, money, not finding the learning meaningful and “everything in between”.
“What we know is that finishing high school and getting your SACE is a real milestone and pathway to the next phase of life,” she said.
“If young people exit education they are exiting from a really main place that society wraps around with care; schools can be really nurturing communities.
“We want to create an environment where young people have agency in their lives, where we say to them you are worth investing in by us as a system and as educators. You matter to us.”
After two months in the job, Kelly has embraced the vision of a project that Church and Catholic education leaders have been dreaming of for a number of years.
Previously the deputy of city-based Youth Inc. Enterprise Academy, the State’s first and currently the only Special Assistance School for 17 to 24 year olds, Kelly is passionate about educating young adults in the northern region.
“Our job is not to “make” the students into anything; they’re not broken, they don’t need fixing, there are just these barriers in their way.
“Our role is to stand beside students and help them to remove those barriers…it’s about doing things with them, and not for them, or to them.”
At Compass Catholic Community, learning will take place in small groups with a “teacher mentor who can work to co-construct the curriculum” based on the young person’s interests and goals from learning. The teacher mentor would be “deeply involved in all aspects of the student’s life”.
A law and arts graduate, her interest in education came after working for five years as a defence lawyer in Children’s and Youth Legal Services.
She said she loved the job, which involved representing 10 to 17 year olds who were “getting into strife” and didn’t know what lay ahead for them.
“It was a place where in that crisis moment you can bring some real clarity and purpose,” she said.
“But after five years the stories were all very similar, many of them couldn’t read or write, they couldn’t articulate their dreams the way other young people could.”
While she regarded the job as “really important work”, she thought “what if I get in earlier, what if my very small contribution was earlier in the process”.
Kelly completed her Graduate Diploma of Education and began teaching at the Australian Technical College, now St Patrick’s Technical College, at Edinburgh North.
Her belief in the importance of education is accompanied by a proven commitment to social justice.
She and her husband lived in Elizabeth South for 12 years as urban missionaries with the Baptist Church and after serving breakfast to 120 people in need at Hope Central Church every Sunday for several years, they set up the Elizabeth South Community Centre, with a team of volunteers.
“Through that experience we saw in a very small way the prejudices and challenges that people face just because you have that postcode or that’s the address on your resume,” she said.
However, she said there were benefits as well as challenges. “It’s real, it’s authentic, that is the gift that we sometimes overlook…living in Elizabeth South we knew our neighbours and they knew us and we looked out for one another, sometimes in confronting ways – there’s no pretence.”
Educated at St Pius X and St Dominic’s Priory and with her two children now in Catholic schools, Kelly is determined that Compass Catholic Community will provide the quality education that people have come to expect of a Catholic education.
A lot of resources were being put into the design of the Village but it is also vital that it has input from young people themselves, as the process continues.
“Co-creation is the key. These facilities are being provided to this community because we want to create an environment where you can fully express all that God has made you to be,” she said.
Kelly stressed that there were “excellent people doing excellent work in education in the northern suburbs” and this project about is about “assisting in filling the gap”.
“The blessing for me is that from the top down there is great passion in this vision; for Dr Neil McGoran (CESA director) this is his heartbeat so that’s a privileged position for me, and the same for Fr Philip Marshall…he sees the Village as an expression of the Gospel.”