Alesco Senior College's "Most Outstanding Student of 2019" Mathew Condon says that he "practically hid behind my fringe" during his first 12 months at the high school's campus in Raymond Terrace. And that was after not turning up for the first term.
"I was shy and I lacked confidence. I wasn't really sure what to make of it when I first arrived," the 18-year-old said.
The college's end-of-year ceremony on Tuesday, however, highlighted the extent to which the Year 12 graduate had pushed himself to overcome his sense of self-doubt since moving to the school in Year 9.
He performed guitar, presented a speech and received the college's most prestigious award for overall academic attainment and school participation.
All things, he said, he wouldn't have dreamed of achieving four years ago - let alone completing his HSC.
Alesco Senior College is a network of small campuses in the Hunter founded by Atwea College, formerly Workers Education Association Hunter, in 2002. It operates as an independent school, however, runs entirely on government funding to provide education and case management for students in Year 9 to 12 who have struggled in mainstream settings.
This year, the college taught its largest cohort yet, more than 200 students.
Mathew said a welfare officer suggested he attend Alesco after he racked up 180 absent days at his former school, Irrawang High.
The school leaver said the extra support from teachers had made him committed to reaching his goals.
"I was in a position where I thought that I would be shy and nervous for a very long time," he said.
"I think respect was one of the biggest things that helped me. If you show respect to your teachers they will show you respect back and you will gain confidence and grow.
"Now I am more committed and determined to do things that I never would have been."
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