Year 12 student, Jenna Barton, describes BSSC as ‘easygoing’.

“In the sense that we’re all encouraged to do our own thing,” she explains. “To follow different paths and benefit from interacting with each other.

As a Science student, Jenna says it reminds her of the biological idea of symbiosis—mutual benefit.

Considering her brilliant score for Unit 3-4 Biology last year, she has some right to make this call.

“I love how the teachers here are so willing to give extra support when you need it,” she says. “I always feel that I’m relating to them on a human level.”

She also loves the flexibility and freedom of studying at BSSC.

“The flexibility to move ahead if you’re flying in a subject,” Jenna explains, “alongside the freedom to duck into town when you need to.”

English Literature is her favourite subject. She’s also studying Extension Maths, Chemistry and Psychology.

“My Lit teacher, Amy, is great,” Jenna says. “She’s passionate about extending our understanding through context or history around a particular text.

“We might look at a poem that’s not part of the set curriculum, but gives us great insight into the poet’s perspective.”

Jenna says Lit has better connected her to her mum who was a Lit major at uni.

“Because I love bouncing ideas off other people, it’s great to discuss what I’m studying with my parents,” she says. “After being constantly cooped up together during Covid it’s nice to connect in a completely new way.”

Another person Jenna loved having conversations with was her kind and much-loved, “no strings attached”, Granny, who died a few years ago.

“I feel sad she’s no longer seeing me mature and develop as a person,” Jenna says.

VCE already comes with plenty of challenges, but for Jenna that’s been accentuated by a diagnosis of ADHD at the end of Year 11.

While these kinds of diagnoses often bring relief and explanations, there’s also a need to come to terms with managing a lifelong challenge.

“ADHD is a neuro-diverse condition similar to autism, which means your brain is actually wired differently to neuro-typical people,” Jenna explains.

“My peers have said all through my education, ‘you’re smart, you shouldn’t be struggling’, but ADHD has a big impact on learning.

“Sensory issues are very distracting—unless I’m hyper-focused on what I’m doing. I can be in class and hear other conversations around me but can’t tune them out the way other people can.

“It leaves me absolutely exhausted. Fatigue is a big issue for me.”

Unsurprisingly, Jenna’s hot study tips are to ensure there are no distractions in the environment and to pace herself with regular breaks.

“Sometimes I use music to block other sounds, or go out for a walk if I’m getting frustrated,” she says.

ADHD also usually brings the well-recognised phenomenon of ‘Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria’ which means people with ADHD are particularly sensitive to what others think or say about them.

Jenna says she does feel things very deeply. She also sets really high expectations and often feels like she’s failing.

“It’s either perfect or a complete failure,” she explains. “I’m either really happy, or in a terrible mood. I almost never feel I’m good enough—and that’s exhausting.

“There’s also a connection to dopamine. Something which would normally make others feel good, doesn’t bring that nice surge of dopamine for me.”

Looking back over the last couple of years, Jenna sees cumulative impact from the effort she’s been putting in to get the best out of her studies.

She often gets sick at the end of term as her immune system bears the brunt of burn-out and stress.

On the other hand, there is no doubt Jenna is very self-aware and mature beyond her years partly because she has had these challenges to manage.

“I’m most proud of being able to work with this,” she says. “To change, to be able to admit when I’m wrong and apologise.”

She’s also determined to develop strategies to improve her organisational capacity.

Best of all she’s discovered slapstick humour can get her laughing.

“While I don’t like people getting injured, I think it’s so hilarious to see some of the situations people get into.”

Jenna is grateful for terrific friends and the enrichment she’s had from exploring different ideas, perspectives and approaches to life. If she could go back and offer some advice to her younger self, it would be to stop focusing so much on the future.

“Enjoy the present more,” she’s say. “Don’t try to grow up too fast.”

Her plans for the future are to study Biomedicine, maybe moving into research or allied health. She’s also planning to take a gap year to rebuild her energy levels and recover from the stresses of VCE.

Jenna’s also a musician and is looking forward to picking up her trumpet again once VCE is done.