Hanging out for high school
LIKE many kids her age, Imogen Leslie has mixed feelings about starting high school.
"I'm so excited and a bit nervous and happy,” she said.
When the school bell sounds on Monday morning, Imogen and eleven other students will settle in to their new classroom at the School of Total Education.
Becoming a 'secondary' student - a term that makes Imogen's mother Rachel cringe - brings with it a lot of exciting changes, like new subjects, new teachers, a new timetable and even a new school uniform.
For young scholars like Imogen, the transition from primary school to high school is a milestone that brings a sense of growing up and Imogen is more than ready.
"I've been colour coding my timetable and I went up to school to meet my new teacher today,” she said.
Imogen has Down Syndrome but that hasn't made the path to high school any different for her.
"We deliberately chose to put Imogen into a school that doesn't have a disability unit or a special education program, because she is more than capable of doing school like everyone else,” Ms Leslie said.
"She has the same teachers and attends all the same classes and she is able to work at her level.
"Starting high school is a completely logical progression for her. She's seen all the other kids do it and now it's her turn.
An avid reader and writer, Imogen is particularly looking forward to English with Mrs Fisher, but her love of language isn't limited to the classroom.
"She's always leaving notes around the house, to me and everyone else,” Ms Leslie said.
Imogen also has a 'pen pal' in Canada that she writes to regularly, although she despises the colloquial term.
"She's just a friend,” Imogen said.
Imogen's needs have been well catered for within her school, but promoting inclusivity is a constant work in progress for children and families with disabilities.
"It's an ongoing process of educating other people,” Ms Leslie said.
"The more you dispel myths about people with disabilities, the more people see it as normal.”
Ms Leslie said exclusion and discrimination could happen in subtle and innocuous ways that reflected people's underlying attitudes.
People's expectations of children with disabilities was one area that needed a lot of improvement.
"If your expectations of someone are lower, you're not going to get a lot out of them and help them achieve their best,” Ms Leslie said.
As a teacher and a mother, Ms Leslie said children should be given more agency to make decisions for themselves, whether they have a disability or not.
"Everyone needs help and that is ok, but it's all about giving kids the ability to make decisions for themselves about their own lives,” she said.
Imogen certainly exercises her agency, and is full of big ideas about where she wants to take her future.
One dream is to become a kindy teacher, and another is to start a cafe.
But for now she's happy to be starting high school and is excited to get back to her classmates and playing sports and games like hand ball at lunch time.
"She's loving it, she's ready for it and she knows that's where she is meant to be.”