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Eileen O’Connor Catholic College – the godsent school for special students

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Principal Gail Story with Jackson and Sophie. Photo: Alphonsus Fok
Principal Gail Story with Jackson and Sophie. Photo: Alphonsus Fok

Sophie Kerwick has found her place in the world.

The 16-year-old is a typical teenager, she likes to spend time on her own in her room, can be a little moody but unlike many her age ALWAYS wants to go to school.

Sophie is a student at Eileen O’Connor Catholic College, the only school of its kind in the Archdiocese which offers a learning environment specifically for students with moderate intellectual disability in a Catholic environment.

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Established in 2016 with just 19 students in Years 7 to 10, it has now grown to more than 60 students and will accept enrolments for kindergarten to Year 12 next year.

For Sophie’s parents, the Lewisham school is an absolute Godsend.

They said Sophie has not only greatly advanced both in her literacy and numeracy skills, but she is so much more confident, independent and above all happy.

Mum Sue said Sophie has always loved going to Mass, praying and learning about Jesus and the Eileen O’Connor College has allowed her to continue her spiritual development in a caring and supportive environment.

She said events such as World Down Syndrome Day – celebrated on March 21 – is great for raising awareness, but for the families it is something they live every day.

“We don’t really see it as anything special, Sophie is Sophie, it’s our normal and we just get on it with,” she said.

Principal Gail Story couldn't imagine doing anything else. Photo: Alphonsus Fok
Principal Gail Story couldn’t imagine doing anything else. Photo: Alphonsus Fok

“World Down Syndrome Day is great to give people a glimpse into our world, if you haven’t had to deal with it you really wouldn’t know.

“Sophie went to St Mary’s Star of the Sea Primary School at Hurstville and the school community was just beautiful, nurturing and caring but as she started to head towards high school we knew we needed to find somewhere that offered more support for her needs.

“For us, we were just so fortunate that the Eileen O’Connor school was ready to open when she started high school.

“She has come leaps and bounds since being at the school. She is offered such specialist attention and not only are her spiritual needs being met but so are her educational.

“And she is so much more confident, positive, independent and happy.

“Don’t get me wrong, she certainly looks forward to her holidays, but at school I know she is the best Sophie she can be and as a parent that’s all you can ask for.”

The school is named in honour of Australia’s saint-in-waiting Eileen O’Connor and her strength, determination and charity serves as a constant inspiration for the students.

Eileen suffered from a debilitating illness for most of her short life and was constantly in pain. Despite this she served the poor tirelessly and founded the religious order Our Lady’s Nurses for the Poor in Coogee.

Congregation leader Sr Margaret Mary Birgan oln, who visited the school recently for Eileen’s birthday said the school has the perfect patron.

Jackson with Principal Gail Story. Photo: Alphonsus Fok
Jackson with Principal Gail Story. Photo: Alphonsus Fok

“Eileen loved helping people and in particular loved young children so I can’t think of a better school – particularly one for little ones with special needs – to be named in her honour,” she said.

“Seeing her work in practice at a school where the children are so special yet so normal and thriving makes us all so happy.

“Eileen has provided a ray of light to the faith of these special little ones and it shows all over their faces.”

School principal Gail Story said despite the challenging environment she has one of the best jobs in the world.

“We are a Catholic school first and foremost, offering students the opportunity to be as independent as possible and prepare them for life after school,” she said.

“Working here is not for everybody, but for the ones who do, they couldn’t imagine working anywhere else.

“Seeing our students flourish and be the best possible people they can be is so rewarding.

“Our charism and having Eileen O’Connor as our patron means giving access and support to those most in need and develop their skills.

“My career has always been in special education and I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else.”

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