Founded in Waratah in 1875 by Dominican Sisters, St Dominic’s established itself as a school for girls who were deaf or hearing impaired. In the years since, not only has it moved locations but also expanded to become a co-educational school that provides education for students from Kindergarten to Year 10 with a range of moderate cognitive disabilities.
Now, the close-knit St Dom’s community is embracing the next chapter in the school’s journey, with the recent announcement that from 2023 its students will be able to access the first ever senior class.
St Dominic’s principal, Rachel Jones, said that offering Years 11 and 12 (Stage 6) was the next, logical step to providing a continued educational experience for each student and one that would help prepare them for life beyond school.
“Up until now, students that completed Year 10 at St Dom’s would either go on to complete Stage 6 elsewhere or, finish school altogether,” Ms Jones said.
“However, this announcement signifies a third and really valuable option for students that provides families with more choice and aligns with St Dom’s philosophy which is to help our students build skills for life by providing a continuum of learning in a safe and supportive environment.
“I am overjoyed to be a part of this new chapter of St Dominic’s growth.”
In the last month, St Dom’s has also celebrated the opening of their very own mini Woolworths store, Dom’s Fresh Food, which has been established to replicate the operations of a Woolworths supermarket. With baskets for fresh food, shelving for groceries, check-out registers, signage and forest green uniform, the store aims to provide hands-on learning experiences.
“Dom’s Fresh Food helps students to build real-life skills within a structured learning environment that they feel safe, regulated and focused in. It gives those students, who are unable to access the wider community regularly, a space to learn and practice the fundamentals of accessing big chain supermarkets without the barriers they may experience in the community," Ms Jones said.
“We are now tailoring our curriculum to incorporate Dom’s Fresh Food across multiple Key Learning Areas and stages, which will also include Stage 6 in the new year.”
Conor Galvin is in Year 10, and his mother Eilis is confident that the opening of Dom’s Fresh Food combined with the school expanding to Year 12, will bring innovative learning opportunities for her son that will assist him for life.
“The way the staff at St Dom’s approaches each child as an individual and nurtures their unique abilities and strengths is very positive. They focus a lot on developing students’ life skills and interests, which for Conor includes cooking and being out in the community. Over the years, these experiences have been really helpful in building his independence and self-esteem,” Mrs Corrigan said.
While much has changed in the almost 150 years since its inception, underpinning St Dom’s continued success has been its partnership with families to meet the evolving needs of its students and the community.
Ms Jones said that the decision to extend the school to Year 12 was influenced by feedback she received from families.
“Parents were asking me at our end of year celebrations to extend our classes to Year 12,” she said. “It was really important for me to listen and seek consultation from our community around what they needed from our Diocese to support their child,” Ms Jones said.
One such parent is Kerrianne Scanlon whose son, Xavier, will be one of the first students to start Year 11 at St Dom’s next year, alongside Conor.
“I can’t tell you how excited and relieved we were when we found out,” Mrs Scanlon said.
Xavier started at St Dom’s in Year 9. Prior to this, he had been living with his family in America and attended school there.
“Xavier is really comfortable with the size of the classes and his teachers are amazing. They seem to be so aware of his needs and they help him to regulate his emotions. It has been quite tricky for Xavier to transition to different schools, and prior to this announcement I was thinking that at the end of Year 10 he would have to do it all again,” Mrs Scanlon said.
“When we told him that he had another two years at St Dom’s, he was just really happy. He probably wants to stay there forever!”
Mrs Corrigan agreed, explaining that the transition into Year 11 will now be seamless for Conor also.
“While another school might have brought opportunities, it also would have brought new challenges. So, to have that option at a place where he feels like he is part of the gang, and he belongs is so important,” Mrs Corrigan said.
“I think overall for Conor it’s a positive that he can stay where he feels happy and comfortable. He is so excited to come to school each day and he looks forward to it and I think that’s a huge plus for him and for us as a family.”