Day one at Holy Spirit College might have looked a little different to most, but as principal Erica Prosser indicates, at the beginning of 2015, manicured facilities were not high on the priority list.
Surveying the “construction site” that was supposed to be the school’s new Manoora campus some weeks before its gates were due to open, Prosser weighed up her options.
“I said to staff ‘right, we’ve got a choice, we can either say we’re not opening and we won’t open until the buildings are done, or we can open in the classrooms’...
“I said ‘this is going to be a tough gig to start with’ … [but] they all went ‘no, no we’ll do it! We’ll open, we’ll open, we’ll open!’ Which was absolutely fantastic – you don’t generally get a group of people who are that keen, [they’re] just fantastic people,” the Queensland principal recalls.
Operating out of eight teaching spaces and a small shared office, the bold educator launched her special arts-based curriculum, designed to hoist the most wayward of children back on track.
“The vision was around having a school where we could engage young people, get them some self-confidence, get them back believing in themselves, up-skill them enough to get them to be where they wanted to be.”
The arts, Prosser asserts, is one area that quickly sharpens students’ will to achieve.
“They can fairly quickly look and go ‘wow, look at what I can do!’ and feel that sense of success,” she says.
Prossers’ journey in education is a tale that almost demands to be shared on the big screen.
Finding her way into the classroom later in life, Prosser developed an acute awareness for social justice and disadvantage. It was a consciousness she bravely acted upon.
“…. I was working in reasonably middle to high socio-economic schools [in South Australia], so I pushed off to the Northern Territory as a principal in a very remote small school.”
School by school, Prosser worked her way through Arnhem Land, before heading to Western Australia and then finally across to Cairns.
Helping to turn around young lives, she says, is addictive.
“I guess my passion is not only Indigenous education, it’s around working with the marginalised and the disenfranchised and the disengaged.
“And I guess every place that I’ve been has just increased that passion of working with the marginalised,” Prosser says.
Now leading Holy Spirit’s two regional campuses, Prosser is spurred on by the knowledge that she is precisely where she is needed most.
“I look at these kids and I go ‘OK, so you have been dealt a bit of a dud hand in life, you don’t need to be dealt a dud hand in education, you need a group of people that are going to give you a hand up, help you, assist you, but also empower you to do this yourself’.
“So they can see a future, but they can also see they’re the creators of their future.”
Students that enter Prossers’ curriculum are not schooled in how to blitz NAPLAN , or made to do PE if they’d rather sit and paint.
Rather, children learn to revel in their strengths and set their own goals, with the aim of eventually transitioning into further training, work, or back into mainstream schooling.
At Holy Spirit, there’s hope for everyone, Prosser says.
“We have young people that have gone into apprentices that came in thinking that there was no way that they were ever going to achieve anything…
“We’ve got young people in school based-traineeships as well, who’ve come in thinking ‘oh I’m not good at anything’ and then finding their niche and then, with assistance, getting themselves traineeships.
“It’s about celebrating that difference, to say ‘hey look we’re all different ... so what is it that I’m good at? What is it that we’re good at’? And then let’s work with that.”