As part of the Catholic Schools Office Virtual Academy, students from the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle are encouraged to think across disciplines to solve real world-problems in an area of interest to them. 

At the end of the year, students in the Virtual Academy present their research to a panel of education, industry, and community experts. It is a rewarding opportunity for some of the Diocese’s most highly gifted students to advocate for matters close to their heart and understand their ability to apply their critical and creative thinking skills to drive change. The academy supports extended learning for students in Years 5-8.

Here is a snapshot of Elizabeth Woodcock's current research project:

Year 6, St Therese's Primary School, New Lambton
Elizabeth was shocked to learn that while homelessness in the Hunter is on the rise, there appears to be a lack of government funding provided to services that support the most vulnerable in our community.

As part of her Virtual Academy project, the socially minded student dared to envision "a place where everyone could sleep in a comfortable bed, have a hot meal every night and not worry about what would happen to them next. It would be a place where no one had to suffer on the streets, where everyone would be free to choose to stay or to go."

Understanding that achieving this vision requires tangible solutions, Elizabeth researched to understand the current environment. Her initial desktop studies indicated that between the 2011 and 2016 census, homelessness in Newcastle had risen by 22 per cent. Elizabeth then met with a team leader from Nova for Women and Children, who confirmed that the number of people it supports each year is far greater than those for whom the government provides funding.

Armed with this knowledge, using the Planner 5D program, Elizabeth designed three houses to support a range of family structures seeking temporary accommodation. As part of her design process, Elizabeth considered the use of materials and sustainability measures to ensure the facilities had low, ongoing maintenance costs and environmental impacts.

Recognising there is a gap in government funding to sustain such services, Elizabeth also developed a bi-annual fundraising concept called Rainbow Fundraisers to bolster funds available to existing homelessness support foundations. Reflecting on the name and colourful logo of the money-raising events that she envisages would be held in schools. Elizabeth said, "Rainbow colours represent diversity in people but also unity. The rainbow also represents the different foundations the Rainbow Fundraisers support."

And while Elizabeth is aware that her project might not be as simple as some others to come to fruition, this won't stop her from championing the need for more local solutions to homelessness. The youngster will attend the Hunter Community Alliance's City of Newcastle Lord Mayor Candidates forum, which is set to address the issue of lack of affordable housing in the city.


In 2021 the Virtual Academy presentation day will be held online via Microsoft Teams on Thursday 25 November. During the day we will acknowledge and celebrate our students and provide them with the opportunity to discuss their learning and their work with a group of very interested and knowledgeable experts. Each student’s presentation will be based on their research project completed as part of a their unit of work. 

Gifted Education is a focus for schools in the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle. To discover more about our Gifted Education program click here. 

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Lizzie Watkin

Lizzie is Team Leader Content for the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.

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