Disadvantaged Indigenous students celebrates first ever formal

There’s excitement in the air at St Joseph’s Flexible Learning Centre in Alice Springs.

A record number of students are preparing to graduate from Year 11 and 12.

Russell Enalang is one of them.

He travels more than 30 kilometres every day to attend class. He’s also the first person in his family to finish Year 11.

“My parents would be proud, my siblings would be proud too of course,” he said.

“The teachers are really encouraging, they help you a lot, help you with the future, push you to get stuff done.”

To celebrate their achievements, the school is throwing its first ever formal.

Teacher Katherine Harris said nearly every student at the school was Indigenous.

“It’s a way that we can celebrate our successes of our senior class over this year, it’s the first one we have ever had and its really exciting times,” she said.

“These are some of the most disadvantaged students in Alice Springs, they have had to deal with poverty, homelessness, drug abuse and in some cases domestic violence.”

The school credits the students’ success to a set of principles that underpins their teaching philosophy.

“Honesty, respect, participation, and safety are all really important,” Ms Harris said.

“We also operate by establishing ‘common ground’ with the students, everyone is equal and everyone has a say, we use negotiation to navigate our learning pathways.

“By treating them as equals they have an opportunity to grow their self-esteem.”

Two young men in formal wear stand behind a table covered with donated clothes

There was no money to pay for the students to get dressed up and feel special, so the school asked the community for help.

“The whole community came together and supported us by donating clothes, make-up and their time,” Ms Harris said.

Out of the school’s 110 students, about half are seniors and about 20 are attending tonight’s formal.

A woman leans over to apply eye make up to a girl who is sitting in a chair with her eyes closed.

They’re celebrating a variety of achievements, including getting a learner driver permit, the bronze Duke of Edinburgh Award and completing their certificate of hospitality.

Sophie Williams said the school was fantastic.

“I like it because I get to hang around with my brothers, and the teachers are awesome,” she said.

“Everyone was really excited for the first formal, as soon as I heard about it got excited.

“Now I just can’t wait to get on the dance floor.”

A boy sits in a chair getting his hair cut short by a man with hair clippers.