Some of the names in the following statements have been changed or omitted for privacy reasons, or at the request of the author.
The first testimonial is the transcript of an impromptu speech made by a parent at the end of the 2017 Year 12 Graduation ceremony:
From [when my son Oscar was in] Grade Five I was looking at all these different schools and a friend said, “You should go and look at Alia.”
So they had one of their information nights… and I went, and I was blown away. I was blown away by the confidence of the children there. I was blown away by how respectful they were, and the teachers, and the way the whole school seemed to operate. And I thought, “What an amazing man, to have a vision like this. And to know that this could be another way of teaching our children with the same end result but not just getting their academic results up, creating the whole person. Giving our children the capacity to find out who they are, and to feel comfortable with who they are. And to learn to express themselves, and negotiate, and compromise, and listen.”
This is not afforded, I don’t believe, in a mainstream school system for many children, if they happen to fall outside that narrow norm.
Other children just come here because it’s a great place to be. I’ll never forget when you (referring to son Oscar) were in Grade Six, or Grade Five, and I was here for an information night, there was a kid — you know how when you go to the Information Night, they always have the children lined up first, and you ask them questions about the school, and it was always very odd — and somebody asked, “What happens if somebody comes to the school and they’re really horrible or mean or they’re just not nice to you?” And this little kid in Year 7, he answered. He said, “Can I take that one?” — A Year 7, a boy, and as a general rule you don’t think of them as the most insightful group of young men — and he said, “You can’t judge someone by a few things that they do. They might have had problems. You’ve gotta let them settle down and not make a judgement, all right?”
And I thought, to have that level of insight — and everyone else is going, “Yes, yes, that’s right, you can’t just judge someone, you’ve gotta give them chances, you have to find out who they are, they have to be comfortable.” I thought, “This school is a gift.”
And it’s really interesting because you say to other people, you know, we’re paying for our child to go to Alia, and they say, well, where’s the swimming pool? I don’t need a swimming pool. That’s not why I’m sending my kids to school. I’m sending them for the environment. I’m sending them for the lessons they can learn. I’m sending them so they can be themselves. Every time I’m exposed to Alia — and I’ve stood back as a parent because I understand that this is their place and it’s for them to sort out. And they have the support from the teachers, because these teachers don’t clock on and clock off, they’re there all the time. Sometimes you walk through the school and you’re not sure who is a teacher and who is a student. But they are always there for them. And so I know they have the support they need to work through the issues they might come across just by virtue of being in the school.
But every time I’ve come to Alia, whether for an Arts Night or a Trivia Night, I’m always more impressed than by the last time I was there. And this cannot have been done without Bob, and the support of his wife and family. For 18 years he has managed to build a dream that has had such a domino effect on everybody. I think it’s really important that we use a night like this, when our children are finished and have become young adults, to acknowledge all your hard work, and your vision becoming a reality. And it didn’t just happen, these things don’t just happen. They cause sleepless nights, stress, worry, and a lot of angst. You, together with your team at Alia, I cannot thank you enough.
I have no doubt that Matthew and I raised a beautiful boy, but there’s also no doubt that he wouldn’t be the man he is today if he hadn’t had the Alia experience for the last six years. And I am forever grateful.
Leanne Czerniecki, 2017
The parent of a Class of 2018 graduate sent us this email following her daughter’s commencement at university:
I wanted to write a letter to express my personal thanks for the wonderful schooling my daughter has had at Alia College over the last six years.
From the very first desperate call to Dermot when she decided she wanted a better experience than mainstream secondary school and the kindness and acceptance that followed that call, right through to her final year and entry to VCA, we just both knew this was where she was meant to be. It wasn’t always easy, and nor should it have been. Alia is raw, true, fierce, challenging. But it’s also real and without a doubt the best place to learn how to be a learner
So many friends asked “but with so few kids how will she find her tribe?” Well honestly. She didn’t. But she did learn how to get along with a very eclectic mix and how to navigate in such a respectful way, those who are different from us. She also never once did not want to go to school. For six years every day she wanted to be there. Regardless of the challenges, she showed up. Because it mattered. And that learning to show up spilled over to other aspects of her life. She showed up for 7 years to St MARTINS Youth Theatre. She showed up to each and every prospective students night, she showed up to every camp, to every fundraiser. And then as a MTC Ambassador she showed up to every MTC play.
She learnt to be loyal. To think outside of just her needs. She became a Melbourne University Kwong Lee Scholar and she showed up . She was not amazingly academic but she cared. She showed up to 2 years of production rehearsals at Alia.
And in all this, no one was ever telling her she had to. She drove herself. And when, against all odds, she was accepted into VCA, (from Alia, a maths/science school no less) she finally learnt that showing up meant something. Her teachers along the way offered her the opportunities that she sought and encouraged her but ever so subtly.
Without a doubt, she had more opportunities offered to her here than she ever would have had anywhere else. She just accepted the Principal’s $5,000 Scholarship to Melbourne University. And she deserved them. Because she showed up. And now as she starts University life at Melbourne University (VCA) she already feels ahead of the game because she knows what showing up means – to her and to her fellow class mates and her teachers. It takes a village. And I am so proud and so thankful to Alia College for all of these opportunities.
Thank you so much for the offer to pay, I truly appreciate that but this is something small that I wanted to do.
(My children) have now been at Alia for a whole year! And what an incredible year it’s been for them and us as a family. I can’t thank you and the whole Alia staff enough for the incredible space that you have created, the support that we have received and, for us, Alia has been the biggest reason for us to feel at home here in Australia.
With deep gratitude,
The school received this email from a parent after their son spent a year at Alia:
Hi to everyone at Alia,
I just would like to thank you all for the support you given to my son last year.
Alia is quite a unique and special environment. In the world were we try to fit our kids into the mould of the structured and rigid rules education, it is nice to have Alia as an alternative schooling option. Where freedom of expression, alternative views and inquisitive minds are not squashed into one for all mould, but there are allowed to flourish. My son’s description of school was that Alia teaches why instead of what and that Alia creates the environment where everyone feels like they belong. Alia might not be for everyone, some kids need the structure and strong rules. But there are plenty of kids that could benefit from more schools like Alia.
Thank you again,
The following testimonial is from a parent of student who spent some time away from school with anxiety and other medical issues:
All the teachers have been fabulously supportive – I feel their help will give her every chance to be able to complete more of her work and maybe lessen her anxiety so she can even make it to school more often next term. I also really appreciate all your support and understanding and that of Bob and everyone in the office – all of you help her through each school day.
The following came from a parent at the end of their son’s trial week:
Thank you. For the first time since starting Secondary School, two years ago, my son was smiling when I dropped him off for school. [My son] has been a constant target of bullies most of his primary school years and all of his time in secondary school. He is a very sensitive child and suffered severe anxiety due to the bullying.
[My son] is an extremely intelligent boy but was having trouble succeeding due to his fear of attending school.
I have had him referred to several psychologists including the school refusal program which have helped on a temporary basis.
Since starting his trial at Alia, he has become a different child. He is happy, relaxed and eager to get to school.
I would like to thank all at Alia for allowing [him] a chance to concentrate on his education rather than just the fear of attending school.
You really do have a great school and I now have hope that [he] will be able to grow as a productive member of society and not an anxious child living in fear.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
From a parent upon enrolling their son:
When I first saw a roomful of students talking amongst themselves to begin the schoolday, I was a bit taken aback. It seemed like an outmoded social experiment, with the usual kind of kid speaking and the usual kind remaining silent. But then, gradually, the kids who weren’t speaking joined in and the other kids listened. They worked things out. Maybe, just maybe, Alia is undertaking a social experiment that will work. And wouldn’t that be a great thing?
From a parent who had recently moved to Perth with her son, who attended Alia for eighteen months:
I thought you might be interested in a progress report of [my son’s] achievements and progress since arriving in Perth, which I believe came about because of the confidence and self belief you instilled in him during his 1 1/2 years spent at the school.
[My son] auditioned for a drama and music theatre scholarship at John Curtin College of the Arts, which is not only a very sought after, but prestigious placement, that over 2000 students apply for every year.
He was chosen as one of 50 only students to be able to secure a placement and now has a busy schedule in addition to his academic studies of singing, drama, dance and instrumental tuition.
If this was not enough to be elated about he has excelled in his academic studies to the point that he has risen from pathway 2 to the gifted student AEP program in math and science within first term.
Whilst in pathway 1 for humanities, consideration is also now being made for entry to the AEP program. [My son] had indicated to me that he felt less than challenged academically and he questioned the learning approach to subjects, as it was so boring, in his words, in comparison to Alia.
I must admit I never quite realised the level of accelerated learning, the teaching style and the encouragement of student inquiry that was the basis of Alia College. [My son] in all subjects has indicated that he did much of the work at present with you last year.
The feedback from [his] teachers is one of a student that loves to learn, endeavours to achieve his best and whilst loud at times (this is no surprise) is a breath of fresh air in the classroom.
From the parent of a child who had recently enrolled at Alia:
Since beginning at the college less than four months ago our son has regained his thirst for knowledge. He left his previous school at the end of last year feeling lost within the education system. He had little respect for most teachers, little respect for the education system and was losing respect for himself.
He was a bright boy, intellectually and personally, until approximately four years ago.
Since coming to Alia College at the beginning of the year [our son] has become much happier. He once again reads for pleasure. I am not sure if you can appreciate how I felt when one afternoon I could not find him, he was not at the computer, in front of the TV or at the Playstation. I went looking for him and found him in his bedroom READING A BOOK. I was even more delighted when I found out he was doing it for pleasure and not because we it was a required text for school. He had probably not read a book for pleasure for about three or four years.
He now enjoys school, he is happy to go to school each morning and he no longer begs for a day off. He respects teachers because they respect him and the other students. He has much more interest in his school work. He is much more talkative at the dinner table – he even tells us what he did at school and we find it interesting. (I must confess that I am sometimes jealous because I am unable to attend the classes.)
I truly believe that [P] would have been lost and discarded within the state education system. His previous school had thought him to have a learning disability and to some extent he did. It was boredom combined with a sense of injustice in the way that teachers responded to certain types of students and the way the teachers were demanding respect but did not give it. [P]’s “learning disability” was also born out of not being able to fully express himself, which now thankfully at Alia he is encouraged to do freely.
I finish this letter by thanking you for providing a place of learning that encourages and respects diversity and that teaches our young people respect for themselves, their peers and their teachers. Yours in gratitude and respect.
From a parent of a student who had recently enrolled:
Going to school has always been an irksome duty for my son [Q] until he transferred to Alia College. Now he is happy to travel an hour each way to attend school. The students at Alia are remarkably friendly, open and well adjusted. The teachers have each student’s best interests at heart and educate them with encouragement, enthusiasm, humour and wisdom. The atmosphere is one of cameraderie that fosters in the growing child, positive self-development and a desire for learning. Discipline is gentle but firm and the school promotes high academic standards.
[Q] has a [minor but very noticeable deformity] and at his previous schools he was cruelly teased because of it. Over the years the cumulative effect of this was to seriously undermine his confidence and his self-esteem. There has been none of that at Alia College. The students have all accepted and welcomed [Q] into the group.
I believe Alia College provides an excellent educational experience for its students that will help them to “find their way” in life and to succeed in whatever they choose to do.
From the parent of a student who had enrolled at Alia mid-term in Year 9:
My son, SS, is currently at Alia. His primary school education was at BBB where he was self-assured, happy and received a great early education. At the instigation of the School Inspector his IQ was tested, he was considered to be “gifted” and it was recommended that he moved up two grades.
At the conclusion of primary school, he enrolled at WWW High School. There, he found a culture of bullying, lack of respect and lack of control by staff.
At SS’s request, in Year 8 he enrolled at XXX Grammar to join a close friend. XXX was the opposite to WWW to an extreme. Far too hierarchical, too authoritarian, too much pressure and too much depression amongst pupils. SS virtually ‘crumbled’ under this environment and became unhappy and ‘withdrawn’ to such a degree that he required weekly psychological counselling.
On the recommendation of his clinical psychologist, SS enrolled at Alia mid-term in Year 9. SS’s transformation has been remarkable.
In an open and positive environment, he is now confident, self assured and focused. He says that this is the happiest year of his life.
Alia is not a mainstream school. However, it does offer a wonderful opportunity to a minority of the population (who wish to pay for it) for their children to be educated in a positive, open and caring environment without the boundaries of discipline which need to be applied in a larger mainstream school.
We are not laissez faire parents. My wife was a teacher at a Melbourne secondary school and frequently calls at Alia and meets briefly with teachers and students.
I have always maintained a strong interest in the educational system through having four older children involved in the profession at a professional, principal and teaching level and being a participant in several parent organisations.