Virtual Academy in the real world

All Saints’ College, St Peter’s Campus, Maitland hosted the recent Virtual Academy presentation day, where 50 students from the program presented their projects to panels of experts.

As part of the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle Catholic Schools Office Gifted Education K-12 strategy, the Virtual Academy provides students with the opportunity to go beyond their classroom curriculum and complete research projects close to their hearts, either on a local or global level.

Education Officer for Gifted Education, Sally Brock, said “it was a day to acknowledge and celebrate these students as they took the opportunity to discuss their learning and their work with a group of very interested and knowledgeable adults”.

From solutions for reducing greenhouse gases and plastic waste, to improving online safety, the care of horses and the accessibility of national sports events outside the major cities, the students all exuded passion and knowledge beyond their years.

Aidan Prior from St Therese’s at New Lambton presented his project “Quillion” — a pen that works without paper. Think Apple pen 10 years from now.

“I really enjoyed the outcome and the group of people who watched,” said Aidan. “They were really supportive and really helped me see where I wanted to go with this [pen] and how I want to improve on it.

“These days are really important. It’s a great way to show your idea and it’s not too large of a crowd and there are experts who are there to give you great feedback.”

Ms Brock thanked the panel members for their generous support and for providing a real-world audience for the students.

“By sharing your knowledge, experience and insights with our students, you are contributing to the development of their talents as they strive to fulfil their potential,” she said.

Whilst a first for many students, it was a familiar platform for others who have taken every Virtual Academy opportunity to continue pushing their idea closer to reality.

Take Lara McKelvey from Corpus Christi, Waratah, for example, inspired by her love of Banksy, an anonymous street artist and political activist. Lara engaged with local street artist Jordan Lucky and café Praise Joes to find out more about the need to turn vandalism into art. Her project design “The Hub” involved finding and designing a creative space that provides opportunities for amateur street artists to access mentoring and share their art. 

I want to let these graffiti artists be free, legally,” said Lara. “I have designed this room to benefit all of Newcastle. I hope that it would not only stop most graffiti, it would make our city beautiful.” 

Molly Boyle from St Joseph’s at Merewether has a strong compassion for those less fortunate than herself. Turning to the plight of the homeless and their lack of access to creative means, she interviewed charity Orange Sky, and DARA’s Van, a Development and Relief Agency outreach program, to find out how to assist those without a home gain agency.

She wowed Maitland Mayor Loretta Baker with her project centered on a van full of art supplies and musical instruments with the dream of the homeless being inspired to express themselves and their imagination, while getting their clothes washed and eating a hearty meal.

Feedback from her panel members was effusive. “Your idea is unique. You acknowledge that there are services out there for homeless people but your idea is new. I love it!” And, “I challenge you: Don’t just make this a school project – make this happen Molly, you can do it!”

Also taking their project beyond the academy is St Joseph’s College, Lochinvar’s A-Team.

“There’s an international competition called Technovation. We entered the national competition and now we want to take it to the international level,” said team member Layne Wilks.

In semester one the A-Team designed a proactive cyberbullying app, AVO – Awesome Vibes Online – which was recently named by the Tech Girls Movement as winner of its Search for the Next Tech Girl Superhero regional NSW secondary school category.

In semester two however, the girls decided to step outside their comfort zones that is tech and STEM and instead tap into their artistic sides. Employing the help of their art teachers, they used their abilities to create compositions that spread an important message.

“It [the artwork] is about how we encounter unity through diversity, and how we are all different, but we all need differences to be united,” said Emily Pockett.

There is no stopping these girls.

Virtual Academy educator Rebecca Heath was incredibly proud of the students and their “courage to stand up in front of peers and adults, share their wonderful ideas, overcome their fears, and showcase their gifts”.

“The students have taught me so much this year,” Ms Heath said. “They give me hope for a future where they are the leaders.”       

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Brittany Gonzalez Image
Brittany Gonzalez

Brittany Gonzalez is a Marketing and Communications Co-ordinator for Catholic Schools in the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.