The Head Start program is giving 62 BSSC students the opportunity to complete their secondary education while spending the majority of their week building work experience.

Year 12 student, Tahlia Schwartz, has been part of Head Start since Year 10 when she began working two days per week as a Pharmacy Assistant at Chemist Discount Centre in Queen Street.

This year she is working three days per week and spends two days in class at BSSC.

She says Head Start has worked brilliantly for her.

Tahlia admits she was a bit overwhelmed by the size of BSSC at the beginning of Year 11—especially after attending a number of smaller schools for most of her education.

She initially enrolled in three 1/2 VCE subjects while maintaining her two days of work.

However, by halfway through first term she had become unbearably stressed.

A combination of her study load, getting used to a new setting, her job commitments, and issues beyond the college, all contributed.

“I’d expected Year 11 would be quite a step up, but even my Mum said I needed to stop something. But I wanted to complete VCE and keep my job.

“My boss is an absolute legend who makes sure all the staff are comfortable in the workplace and always follows up if there’s been a problem.”

However, Tahlia says she also knew her mum was right: something had to change.

The solution was to transfer from the selected VCE subjects into the Head Start Vocational Major Program and—in a move that might seem counter-intuitive—pick up an extra workday.

Tahlia is now on the job three days per week, with the remaining two days at BSSC studying Maths, English and Personal Development Skills with other Head Start participants.

The change in Tahlia’s psychological wellbeing was almost immediate.

“I knew I’d made a good decision for me,” she says, “and I get to complete VCE and have all this work experience too.”

School is now a place Tahlia is enjoying again and she appreciates being in a classroom with students who really understand the juggle of work and study.

She also recalls how accommodating and welcoming her new teachers were—especially because she had missed a few weeks and there was work to catch up on.

She names Nicole Cordy and Peter Tyack as two teachers who have been really supportive of her and connect well with their students.

Another teacher who had a big impact on Tahlia’s life was one of her Advisors at Crusoe College.

“He was so encouraging and I would love to know how he’s going. I think he will retire soon and I’d love to hear his plans and tell him all about how my life has been going.”

Tahlia says she thinks the resources available to BSSC students and the support teachers offer their students is fantastic.

“You’re always being encouraged to better yourself—I would definitely recommend this college.”

Tahlia also enjoys the physical environment of the college, with the park so close, creating a great sense of spaciousness.

“I love being able to head into town so easily too.”

When she’s hitting the books, Tahlia turns off her notifications and puts her phone out of sight.

She finds soft light and listening to music helps her take notes, but music is a complete distraction when she’s doing maths.

“I usually take a few minutes to get into the zone, but once I have, I can get everything done—and some!”

Tahlia likes to be ready for class and aims to complete pre-reading or have already looked at other resources recommended by her teachers.

“I also like to have people around—not necessarily talking with me, but nearby. During the lockdowns I spent a lot of time alone at home and became both unmotivated and really stressed.

“Because I worked at a chemist I was considered an essential worker and going in to work became the highlight of my day.”

In the future, Tahlia dreams of travelling to Germany to explore her family’s heritage.

Her experience at the chemist has allowed Tahlia to observe how immunisation programs work. Long-term she’s considering studying nursing so she can become an immunisation nurse.

“I remember one lady who came into the chemist for a flu vax and was just petrified. It felt so good to reassure her.”

Alongside all the terrific things that make life interesting and satisfying, Tahlia has also seen some really tough times.

“Some experiences were truly terrible. I’m proud of all I have achieved and I’m proud of what I’ve built out of those experiences.

“I have made myself a better person out of my troubles.”

Tahlia remains very grateful to family, friends and co-workers who have consistently supported her.

If she could travel back and give her 12-year-old self some advice she says she would tell her younger self, “Follow your heart”.

“I’d also say, ‘You’ll have people come into your life who will say the most terrible stuff to you—it’s pointless listening to them’.”

Tahlia’s life is pretty busy but she still finds time to hang out with her friends—and there’s nothing she enjoys more in the middle of winter than to hibernate for a day. Especially if there’s a binge-worthy real-life murder-mystery TV series on offer.