From the moment Perla Akram started at Clancy Catholic College she stood out.
Not for the fact she had fled more than 13,000kms from her native Iraq or that she couldn’t speak a word of English … it was her natural ability to lead.
The Year 12 student is one of 497 refugees currently enrolled at Sydney Catholic Schools and just one of 15 currently sitting the 2018 HSC.
She enrolled with the assistance of a refugee bursary aimed to make a difference to the lives of refugee families who have been living in our community for less than three years and who require additional support to establish their lives in Australia.
And make a difference it has. Eighteen-year-old Perla is not only the College captain of her 1200-student school but studying extension English – her proudest achievement since arriving in Australia.
“English for sure was by far my hardest subject, when I first arrived here I didn’t really speak any English, so I was sent to special classes to learn,” she said.
“My first year was pretty terrifying, I was not only new but I had to do NAPLAN and was placed in different classes to my peers because I didn’t know English very well.
“It made me so upset that I was being constantly segregated so I made it my goal to prove to the teachers I was capable of going into the numeracy and literacy classes my friends were in.
“Very quickly I was in the second highest mathematics class and by the next year, I was in the second highest English class. I’ve continued to aim to excel from then on.
“It really does prove hard work does pay off.”
The remarkable young student is not only sitting HSC Extension English, but Extension Maths and Science as well.
Perla said the support of her school community as well as her faith has played a key role in her success. She said she remembers attending Mass in Iraq hearing bombs and gunfire outside and still draws on her faith when times get tough.
“Going to a Catholic school was always very important to my parents. It was reassuring in many ways that what I was being taught at home was also taught at this new, unfamiliar school,” she said.
“My faith is what has made me continue in times of adversity, and it has instilled in me values that I try to share with everyone.
“Being in a Catholic school helped me achieve that, particularly when meeting others with similar values.”
Clancy College Year 12 coordinator Glenn Aitken said Perla has never let her past be an obstacle or an excuse for her to reach her potential.
He said they very quickly discovered that from the moment she came to the school she not only stood out but at the same time fit straight in.
“She has always been a student who lives out our College motto, exemplifying what it truly means ‘To Love Like Christ’ through her daily words and actions,” he said.
“Perla has proven to be a great role model not only for her peers but the whole student body.
“She has always displayed the best qualities and embodied our College values by being a person of faith and hope, seeking to develop positive relationships with her peers and teachers. She demonstrates respect and compassion for others, and shows great pride in herself, others, and her College community.
“We are very proud of everything she has achieved and wish her nothing but the best for the future.”
Once she completes her HSC Perla hopes to study Speech Pathology initially to obtain a career as an audiologist. Understandably she is also interested in learning new languages and hopes to take lessons and participate in a student exchange program.