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2010 VCAL Achievement Awards Student Speech

Jessica Brown's moving speech about her VCAL journey at Monbulk Secondary College was a highlight of the ceremony.
(Reproduced by permission from Jessica Brown.)

Minister, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, teachers and fellow VCAL students.

On behalf of all the VCAL students who have received awards today I would like to thank the VCAA for acknowledging our achievements and recognising the partnerships and community events that have occurred in the past year because of the opportunities VCAL has presented.

It has been inspiring to hear about each of the students or teams that have been recognised today. Thank you to our schools for taking on a VCAL program, thank you to our teachers who continue to inspire and challenge us to make something of our lives and thank you to the communities who have embraced many aspects of our VCAL programs whether it has been by employing a young person, sponsoring an event or participating in our activities.

VCAL is more than just a school program, it is an opportunity for young people.

So it is an honour to be able to speak to you today about my VCAL journey. In 2009 I could be described as a girl with attitude. I really did not enjoy school and in fact if I attended for a term in total that would surprise me. I saw no purpose in school, I was often angry, struggled with aspects of my school program and if you ask my brothers I probably disrupted our entire home life. It is probably an appropriate time to thank my mum and dad, who despite my best efforts to be disagreeable, stuck by me, continued to support me and have been part of this incredible journey.

It was late in 2009 that I was dragged up to school for yet another meeting about my future. I was not happy. Dad took me on this day but the difference was I was meeting with the schools VCAL Coordinator Loretta. I had nothing to do with Loretta in the past so this was a bit of a surprise. I can clearly remember Loretta’s brutal honesty about where I was heading, questioning me on what I wanted in the future and how I intended to support myself if I had no education as a foundation. I think I realised after this meeting that the luxuries in life that I was used to just would not be possible if I did not return to school.

Even though I was not old enough Loretta offered for me to join the VCAL program until the end of the year to see if I would be interested enrolling in Foundation VCAL for 2010. I took up this offer and managed to get myself to school a couple of days a week during term 4. What this did was make me realise that there was a program at our school that would benefit me.

So 2010 began and I was now enrolled in a VCAL program. What surprised me the most was how different this was. Firstly we had a say in what we were going to learn – the teachers called it a negotiated curriculum, we had many different programs on the go so it was not necessarily a maths class or literacy but rather a project that incorporated all these learning subjects.

We were also treated like adults. We called teachers by their first names, had the opportunity to attend TAFE and were allowed to work and earn money whilst at school. This was all fantastic but it was the other life skills that we learned that have meant so much to me.

Firstly we learnt to work as a team. Now generally for self centred teenagers this did not seem too relevant however when we started working it became obvious that those who ran successful businesses all knew how to work in a team. We learnt from the activities we completed at school that everyone has a talent and that given the opportunity and encouragement we can achieve. I was able to put my team work to the test when I had the opportunity to commence a school based traineeship in Community Pharmacy. Here being a member of a team was crucial to how our shop ran and how everything can fall apart if you are not reliable or fulfil your part of the teams role. It made me reflect on how often in the past I may have let people down by not being prepared to be part of a team.

When I joined VCAL I lacked confidence and self esteem. My teachers taught us to be leaders and confident public speakers. These were not taught through structured lessons but through activities that were fun, hands on and relevant to our vocational pathway. I had the opportunity to lead groups during our CFA fire fighting program, I was put in charge of class group activities and had to learn how to motivate others in my class and get them to complete tasks to the required standards. I started to get an appreciation of how hard the teachers have to work with students that don’t want to be at school. All our activities required us to present work to a class, the Principal or people in our work place. I went from never wanting to speak in a group to presenting for the group. These life skills now have helped me in all aspects of my life.

Through VCAL I have also enjoyed learning new things. Not solving algebraic equations but completing my Certificate in Vocational Preparation, Certificate II in Retail, Modules from Certificate II Public Safety, and my favourite a school based traineeship in Community Pharmacy retail. Our school is big on School based traineeships and apprenticeships but it is usually for the Intermediate and Senior students. However when an opportunity came up to work with the Pharmacy guild my teacher was prepared to give me a go. Thank you so much Louisa and Gabby from Emerald Pharmacy for giving me the chance to work with you, for your guidance with my studies, teaching me more about the world of work and understanding that young people need to be given opportunities to show that they are valuable members of our community.

The tasks I have to complete at work are many and varied and my training through the Pharmacy guild is extensive. I never imagined how much there is to learn about products that we take for granted. I relish working at every opportunity and I love the flexibility that our VCAL program offers.

So my VCAL journey has taught me so much about life, how to lead, how to be a part of a team, the importance of reliability, good communication, trust and a good work ethic. These life skills don’t just come from a classroom but from ‘doing’ putting in to practice what we learn. This is what VCAL has meant to me. It has been a chance for me to get my life back on track, skill me up for my future and give me a voice where I am always encouraged to believe in myself whilst being made aware of community needs.

I can probably sum up my VCAL experience as it has been fun and the learning has come!

Thank you.