Finding my true calling, through a VCAL pathway
My family and I are originally from the Gold Coast, Queensland, and moved to Victoria in late 2011, as we were after a tree change and wanted to be closer to family. I currently live at home with my brother, Jamison, who attends St Patricks College, and my parents, Scott and Simone, who both work for Federation University. We have lived in Ballarat for almost 8 years now, on a small hobby farm 15 minutes out of Ballarat, where we have dogs, cats, sheep, cows, horses and rabbits, most of which are rescues or which we have found abandoned around Victoria.
Before I attended Damascus, I went to St Alipius Parish School, which I enjoyed. The teachers (who I am still in contact with) were all nice and welcoming but, in saying that, school has never really been my thing. I've never been the one to get top marks, have always struggled to pass tests and assignments, and I've always just done what needs to be done and left it at that.
Before coming to Damascus, I had tours of some of the surrounding high schools, but nothing was really jumping out at me, as I just didn’t want to go to school. I got so worked up about the idea of going to high school that I completely turned myself off the idea. In the end, I chose Damascus, as I felt it best suited the type of person I am. The first 3 years of high school was a real struggle for me. I wasn’t doing well in my classes and I was really struggling to keep up. Mum and I had numerous conversations about what could be done to get me back on track but nothing was really working out, as I wasn’t engaged and I didn’t see the purpose of the things we were learning.
I am the type of person that believes everything happens for a reason, and if I can’t see a point or a purpose in doing it and I feel like I am wasting my time on it, I struggle. This is why I struggled with most of my education, as I could not see myself using any of the knowledge outside of school or later on in life.
Towards the end of Year 10, we had the option to choose either VCE or VCAL, I had absolutely no idea what either meant. I didn’t know the difference between the two, so I didn’t understand why one was more popular than the other. However, I wasn’t the one to ask questions in those situations, so I clicked on the VCE option and started filling it out. Later that day I got an email from the teacher, who was in charge of those types of things, saying that I needed to go and see her. When I got there, she asked me if I wanted to do VCE or VCAL. Still not knowing the difference, I just asked, “What was the most popular one?”, and she said VCE, so I went with it.
The first week or so I actually really enjoyed it. I had great teachers and I was enjoying the classes I had chosen. However, as time went on, I started noticing my marks were going down, again, and I would find myself sitting in class looking around at everyone hard at work while I was asking myself, “What am I doing here? I’m never going to use any of this knowledge, I’m never going to go to University, I’m never going to be a psychologist, I’m never going to be any of these, so why am I here?” So, the next week, I went and spoke to some of my teachers about what I should do. Most of them said that moving to VCAL would probably be the best idea, but I really wanted to prove them all wrong and show them that I could do VCE. So, for the next week, I tried my absolute best to get my marks up and really made an effort, but it wasn’t working. I didn’t know it at the time, and I maybe didn’t want to believe it, but I was trying to make something happen that just wasn’t me, and it was never going to be me.
After I finally came to terms that VCE wasn’t for me, I decided to go and chat with a teacher who was the ‘go-to’ person for all VCE and VCAL things. I explained to her my situation, and she asked me if I knew what VCAL was. By this time, I had a rough idea of what it was but I didn’t fully know. She told me the basic outline of it and asked if it sounded like something more suited to me, which it was. It was more my style of learning and a lot more work-related, and I love working. So, by the next week, I was in VCAL and I was so much more relaxed, my anxiety had gone away and I was doing really well with all my school work. I could finally start focusing on my chosen career, which is horses. I’ve grown up with horses my entire life, for which I feel incredibly blessed, as I know some people don’t have that opportunity.
Since being in the VCAL program at school, I have had so many amazing opportunities open up to me, like gaining a position in my dream job at one of the most successful racing stables in Victoria. I could only dream of this while being in VCE, as that just wasn’t an option because of the workload. If it wasn’t for VCAL, I probably wouldn’t still be at school. Instead, I would have dropped out, and wouldn’t be doing any of the things I love, and I certainly wouldn’t be working at the job I am now. I can confidently say that I wouldn’t be as happy as I am now. Now, I’m not saying VCAL is for everyone. It has its days where some stuff is hard and there are sometimes things that I don’t want to do, however, that’s going to happen in any school, any job and pretty much life in general. However, for me, it was the best decision I’ve ever made and it gave me the encouragement to be who I really, truly am, and who I want to be in the future.
If you’re sitting here reading this thinking to yourself that you may feel the same way or you know someone who is struggling with school, then maybe VCAL is for you. Or, maybe, you are too scared, like I was, to act on it because you might be seen as different from other people. Then, the best advice I can give you is to stop and really ask yourself, “Is this who I want to be in 20 years?” And, if your answer is no, like me, then it’s time to make some changes.
If I could give one piece of advice to the Year 7 students, it would be that life really is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get and you never know what’s going to happen tomorrow. High School isn’t always easy. Sometimes, you’re going to want to quit, and, sometimes, you’re going to want to cry all night because of the most random things. However, you’re also going to laugh, make relationships with your friends that will last forever, and become who you really are.
School years really are the best and worst years of your life, so make the most of it. Go all out on assignments. If they say write a 500-word essay, write 600. Always be the best you can absolutely be, and good things will come. And, remember, not everything is always going to go in your favour; some things are going to hit the fan and some things won’t have an outcome at all. But, if you’re always trying your absolute best, then, guess what! You’re one step ahead of everyone else.
Tabitha Harris, Year 12 student