Our guest speaker for the 2023 Scholarship Presentation Ceremony was former scholarship recipient, Belinda Wells. Belinda kindly gave permission for us to print her story.
Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.
My name is Belinda Wells, I am honoured to be here today to share my story with you.
I was fortunate enough to receive not one, but two, educational scholarships through the Mentor Support Network. Receiving these scholarships allowed me to access resources which aided me to not only complete my HSC, build my confidence, drive and determination – but to continue on to complete tertiary studies.
I was first selected as a scholarship recipient in 2012 as a Year 12 student commencing my HSC at Kurri Kurri high school.
Throughout my schooling I had struggled with dyslexia and learning difficulties. I failed most of my subjects – unless it was PDHPE practical – and those that I did pass, my grades were at the bare minimum.
I directed the scholarship money towards covering my study costs and tuition. This covered all of my school fees, purchasing the correct stationary equipment that I needed, and a wireless internet dongle, which enabled me to complete my schoolwork and assessments from home.
The support of the scholarship helped me to gain the confidence to ask my teachers for extra help in each of my subjects. As much as they were surprised by my request, they were happy to provide me with the support I needed.
Going into Year 12, I had never passed a Maths exam. Receiving the scholarship allowed me to access and pay for a Maths tutor. This allowed me to receive individual support tailored to my needs in which improved not only my confidence and personal growth in this subject, but also my academic performance.
On receiving my First Semester school report that year, I could see early signs of improvement in my results. This reinforced my determination and ambition to continue working hard towards my goals.
Throughout the second half of Year 12, I continued with Maths tutoring, and receiving the extra help from my teachers who assisted in preparing me for my final HSC exams.
All of my hard work and efforts paid off. I completed my HSC and finished in the top 5 of all of my classes.
I was also recognised in my school’s end of year presentation, receiving four awards for: Outstanding Achievement in S.L.R., English, and Work Studies as well as an Academic Achievement in PDHPE.
I was blown away with my results as I had never achieved anything like this throughout high school.
In 2013 I received a second educational scholarship through Mentor Support Network. This allowed me to further my studies and pursue my dream job of becoming a camp instructor. I attended TAFE and completed both Certificates 3 and 4 in Outdoor Recreation in 12 months.
The courses included on campus classes, as well as self-directed learning, and multi-day field trips with training in bushwalking, rock climbing, canoeing, and white-water rafting.
I was able to utilise the scholarship money to cover my course fees, and equipment required for the course – such as quality hiking boots, summer and winter sleeping bags, down jacket, wetsuit and thermals as some of the training was completed in cold areas such as the Barrington Tops.
Completing these TAFE courses was a life changing experience for me. I had never thought I’d be able to complete a multi-day hike though the Barrington Tops, rock climb on natural surfaces, take multi-day canoeing trips, or white-water raft for 10 days down the Snowy River.
I gave my best in every aspect of these courses and I achieved great results. Passing all components of the courses and, at the end of year awards night, I received an award for ‘Consistent Effort’.
Once I had completed these TAFE courses, I applied for numerous jobs as a camp instructor, but unfortunately, I was unable to secure fulltime employment. However, this did not stop me.
After all of the help and support I had received from the Mentor Support Network and the opportunities these scholarships provided to me, I wanted to ‘give back’ to my community, and support young people through the barriers, challenges and adversities they may face.
In 2014, I enrolled in TAFE to study a Certificate 4 in Community Service Work. About three months into the course, I applied for a traineeship at Youth Off the Streets and was successful. I worked at Youth Off the Streets for two years – my Job entailed various duties such as case management, outreach programs and various education and wellbeing programs, just to name a few.
I completed not only the Certificate 4 and Diploma in Community Service Work, but a Certificate 4 in Youth Work as well.
In 2016, I commenced my new job at Alesco Senior College, where I have now worked for seven years as a Student Learning Support Officer.
Alesco Senior College is an independent high school for Years 9 to 12, specifically designed for the inclusion and engagement of young people who have struggled to find success in a traditional school setting. The Alesco model was designed to ensure that the elements of wellbeing and education work closely together in order for students to have the greatest chance of success.
From the moment I commenced my position as Student Learning Support Officer, I was struck by how many students showed low level literacy abilities.
This was an eye-opening experience and also from where my passion has grown for supporting our young people. When I am not in the classroom supporting students in various class subjects, I am facilitating a reading program. I work intensively with identified low-level literacy students in small groups or one-on-one to improve their abilities. This program has proved to be highly successful for those who have participated, and it has been phenomenal to see these students, not only improve their literacy abilities, but their confidence within themselves and their attitude shift towards school and their schoolwork.
Over the years I have worked closely with many students. One Year 10 student in particular comes to mind. They came to the school with a reading age of a 9-year-old. Their low-literacy abilities impacted their confidence immensely, and they were reluctant to read. This student worked hard each morning, as we began building their vocabulary, learning about letter sounds and blending, so that they were able decode new words independently.
Two years later, this student graduated with their Higher School Certificate. Sometime after graduating, they visited the school and shared with me that they were still reading books each night before going to bed. This is just one example of why I am so passionate about my role in breaking down barriers for young people, to improve their access to education.
In 2020, at our annual staff Reward and Recognition Ceremony, I received two awards: Recognition for Integrity, and Recognition for Innovation.
In 2021, I was nominated for the Teachers’ Aide of the Year Award. Each year, these awards are open to Education Support Staff across Australia.
This year I was asked to be a part of our organisation’s pilot Peer Mentoring Program. This involves working alongside other support staff, providing them with support, guidance, and teaching new knowledge and skills.
I am proud of my accomplishments, and how far I have come from the Year 12 student who received her first scholarship. I would like to say thank you to the Mentor Support Network for assisting me in reaching my full potential, as well as a big thank you to each of the sponsors who make these educational scholarships possible each year for young people.
To the scholarship recipients of 2023, I congratulate you all. You can achieve anything you put your mind to, and I wish you the best of luck with your future endeavours.