Year 11 student, Laura Hipwell, has grown up with a family member who has autism. Aside from her affection for her sibling, the experience has inspired her towards a career as an Occupational Therapist.

“My sister has taught me empathy, insight, patience and calmness,” Laura says.

Bendigo Senior is now playing its part in supporting Laura towards her goals.

So, how hard was it for Laura to make the transition from the familiarity of BSE to BSSC?

“Actually, the jump from Year 6 to Year 7 was much more significant, but the most daunting feature about BSSC was its size and the unfamiliarity of the layout.”

On top of this, Laura’s ‘bestie’ had moved to New Zealand during Year 10, so starting at BSSC without her was hard. Laura remembers imagining herself lost, alone and late for class.

She also remembers how excited she was that first morning.

“I’d chosen my subjects carefully, with an eye to what would set me up best to get into OT. I couldn’t wait to get started.”

Laura selected PE—for the anatomy education it provides—along with Sociology, Psychology, Health & Human Development and English.

Getting ready for that first day, Laura didn’t succumb to the clothing crisis some students experience when there is no uniform.

“I like to do my own thing,” she says. “I wear clothes that are comfy and not dictated by someone else. I noticed some students turned up in the most gorgeous stuff—but within a couple of weeks, most of us were wearing what was comfortable.”

Arriving at her new college, Laura was surprised to find BSSC didn’t feel as big as she thought it would. With lots of staff out directing the crowds, and familiar faces from BSE everywhere, her concerns she would be lost and late for class, dissolved.

She soon discovered just how supportive and approachable these teachers were.

As an independent learner, Laura had anticipated BSSC would provide her with ‘her kind of learning’ which is exactly what she found.

“The teachers are just so nice and that’s a big comfort when you’re new,” Laura says. “I decided to introduce myself to my teachers and, if I enjoyed the class, to thank them. Doing this made me so much more comfortable asking questions in subsequent classes.”

Her Sociology teacher, Joy Resta, and PE teacher, Mark Fox, stood out for her.

“Joy took the time to get to know me at the start and we built a strong relationship very quickly,” Laura says, “but in truth I have a great rapport with all my teachers.”

She loves the way the college resembles a uni campus and despite the lockdown talks warmly about spending lunchtimes in Rosalind Park on the grass with a group of friends—“a place to relax and separate your mind from school for a while”.

So what’s Laura’s advice to new students?

“It’s great here, so don’t worry. My practical advice is: keep your map on you all the time till you know your way around. I didn’t know that VCAL is not considered part of C Block or that I could get to B Block via the ramp through the VCAL area.

“Utilise the information in the student diary—it was my ‘bible’ at the start.”

During first term—before the lockdown—Laura also discovered a few quiet places that became favourite corners of the college. One is under the shade sails near B block.

Meanwhile, when it comes to learning, Laura is convinced that getting organised is the key to a successful Year 11.

“All through this very messed up lockdown year, the teachers have consistently encouraged us to do our best and interacted in really nurturing ways—which actually inspired me to do my best! But it was being organised and pacing myself that got me through.

“I make comprehensive notes and summaries—especially for Year 12 subjects—so right now I don’t have to cart around my textbooks.”

Laura believes it’s important to work out early on what kind of a learner you are.

“I’m very visual, so using colour-coding to highlight important details helps me recall them more easily.”

The lockdown brought its own lessons and taught Laura how to pace herself so she didn’t burn out. It also brought home the importance of keeping up a hobby during VCE.

“I’m restoring a 1964 XM Falcon with my Dad and it gives my mind a complete reset,” she says. “Obviously your studies are the priority and you do have to keep a balance!”

(BTW: Laura’s dream care is an A-Model Roadster.)

If she could go back and give her 12 year-old self some advice it would be this:

“Don’t worry about what other people think. Don’t take the things you value—especially people—for granted. And don’t behave differently, according to who you’re with—try to be yourself wherever you are.”