In the three years Sandy Downes, her daughter Jasper and grandson Carson have been involved with Carinity Education Southside, the school has become like a second home for the family.
So much so that Sandy describes walking through the gates of the school each morning as “like getting a warm hug”.
The family’s involvement with the school started when Jasper wasn’t coping with the pressure she felt while attending government schools and the family turned to Carinity’s only all-girls special assistance school.
Since that initial enrolment, Sandy, Jasper and Carson’s association with Southside has transcended a traditional school experience.
Three generations of this close-knit family are not only thriving personally – they are also finding ways to give back to the school community that has supported them.
“I went to all different schools, and I didn’t like them. Then I came here to Southside and I loved it,” Jasper said.
Jasper started at Carinity Education Southside in Year 9. With a strong desire to support her daughter’s schooling, Sandy started volunteering at Southside to provide a little extra support to Jasper.
“Jasper wasn’t actually going to school much for a while so I thought if I volunteer, it will encourage her to attend. When I started volunteering in the kitchen, she started coming to school more and now she attends all the time,” Sandy said.
After working hard for 20 years raising five children, Sandy was ready to re-join the workforce and is now employed to work in the school kitchen. She is enjoying the balance of work and home life, as well as the income her role provides.
Jasper’s engagement with school has markedly increased, and she says that having her mum at Southside “makes me want to go to school”. She cites maths and science as her favourite subjects and enjoys time in class with youth workers and her fellow students.
Jasper has blossomed since her mother commenced at the school. As a positive role model and mentor, Sandy has had a profound effect not only on her own daughter, but on the broader school community.
“I have noticed such a big difference with Jasper, she is just so happy. Now that I am here at the school, Jasper is quite proud of me. She talks to a lot more girls and has made some lovely friends. Before she wouldn’t talk to people – now she is much more outgoing. She is coming out of her shell,” Sandy said.
Carinity Education Southside Principal, Leann Faint, said Sandy is a favourite with both staff and students, adding Jasper “has a real sense of pride that Sandy is her mum”.
“When Sandy began volunteering in our kitchen with Aunty Joan, Jasper became more engaged with her learning, her peers and the staff. Just having her mum there to touch base with made a real difference,” Leann said.
As well as strengthening the relationship with her daughter, Sandy finds it very fulfilling to help students develop skills in the kitchen and watch them blossom.
“I feel really good when I go home, that just for a brief moment I have helped them forget what was worrying them. Lots of the girls now call me Mum too.”
When Jasper fell pregnant and later gave birth to her baby, the unique schooling environment at Southside meant she was able to balance raising a child with finishing her studies. Since he was six weeks old, Carson has been attending an early learning centre for babies and toddlers located at the school.
“It is so good; I get to come and visit my baby any time of the day and give him a cuddle,” Jasper said.
Sandy and Jasper find comfort knowing Carson is happy, safe and being cared for by the “wonderful” staff at the creche.
“He gets looked after by the best people, he is so happy to come here, he loves the people that look after him. He has the greatest day and I get to visit too,” Sandy said.
“The creche has allowed Jasper to connect with other mums. She has been invited to baby showers and birthday parties.”
In advancing young women’s education, Southside also assists students with everything from parenting courses to supplying food to take home.
“If you need something they will help you get it. It’s being a part of a community. All the school has supported Jasper; she was still coming to classes while pregnant. They are very inclusive of the baby. Jasper is going to camp later this year and Carson is going with her,” Sandy said.
“The people at the school are just beautiful, not only do they inspire the students to better themselves, but they also inspire the staff. They are really encouraging. They inspire me to be better.”