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“It doesn’t matter who you are or what you’ve done previously, Berry Street School offers a fresh start and another chance at schooling.”

This is a powerful statement for a young person who, less than a year ago, had completely stopped attending high school.

When Lara* started year 7 at a mainstream school, her and her best friend Isabelle* were inseparable. They were in all the same classes and walked to and from school together every day.

Unfortunately, Isabelle’s family moved interstate only a few months into the school year. This meant that Lara lost one of the people closest to her, as well as a supportive, vibrant friendship. She didn’t have many other friends at this new school and spent most of her lunch breaks alone. This is when she started being bullied.

Bullying can have a devastating impact on children and young people

Lara felt very alone and anxious most of the time. She would beg her mum every morning to let her stay home. When she was at school, she found it difficult to concentrate during class, which negatively impacted her learning. When she stopped attending entirely, her school’s wellbeing team referred her to the Berry Street School.

The school uses the Berry Street Education Model to help young people who have experienced trauma re-engage with school in a safe, nurturing environment. “Trauma-informed learning” has been helping teachers to better understand the developmental, emotional, and social challenges that students who are impacted by trauma face at school1.

Ivana, the Student Wellbeing Coordinator at the Berry Street School, assists students with their everyday wellbeing. At first, Lara was reluctant to express herself honestly with Ivana, but over time they have built a trusting relationship based on mutual respect. Lara and Ivana worked together to set up a personalised plan for her with learning goals, as well as broader life outcomes.

Lara really appreciates the support she receives from Ivana: she checks in with her daily, calls her if she doesn’t show up to school in the morning, and encourages her to practice mindfulness regularly.

Helping students get ready to learn

The shorter day of 9.30am to 2.30pm at the Berry Street School helps Lara better engage with her lessons. The teachers use short ‘brain breaks’ throughout the day to build stamina and refocus students’ minds.

Every morning, students show where they are on the ‘Ready to Learn’ scale - starting at 1 being ‘No way am I ready to learn’, up to 5 ‘I am pumped to learn’.

“Ready to Learn lets me show my teacher how I’m feeling before going into class. If I’ve had a bad morning or am not in a good place… I now know when I need to go for a walk or have a glass of water to settle myself before coming in to class,” Lara explains.

There’s also no school on Wednesdays to provide a pause in the week. Lara enjoys using this time to draw and paint, as she wants to become an artist in the future.

Lara says that her confidence has gone up dramatically since being at Berry Street School.

I don’t ask my mum to stay home anymore because I want to keep learning and make sure I don’t miss any classes. I’m so much happier at school now because I can be myself and the staff actually listen to me.

Lara Student at the Berry Street School

Earlier this year, a local community centre put some of Lara’s drawings on display for an exhibition night and her school friends attended the event to support her. Lara has now developed lots of strong friendships and has renewed her confidence in herself and learning abilities.

*Name has been changed in the interest of privacy. The models and volunteers pictured are not connected to the case study.