DALE Young Parents' Program students sit HSC 2016

Striving: Maddison Ellis, with Rachael Cumins and Ms Cumins' son Sebastian, advised other young mums “don't think you can't do it.” Picture: Simone De Peak
Striving: Maddison Ellis, with Rachael Cumins and Ms Cumins' son Sebastian, advised other young mums “don't think you can't do it.” Picture: Simone De Peak

WHEN Maddison Ellis started experiencing morning sickness and finding it increasingly difficult to attend school, she felt her dreams of studying medicine slowly start to slip out of reach.

“I thought ‘This is it, how am I going to get there now?’,” Ms Ellis,18, said.

“I felt like I had thrown away my schooling, because I used to really enjoy it.

“But then I realised ‘I have this beautiful baby coming, I don’t want to let myself down or my baby down’.”

Fast forward and Ms Ellis, now a mum to 10-month-old Lila, is one of four students completing their Higher School Certificate through the Dynamic Alternative Learning Environment (DALE) School’s Young Parents' Program, based at St Philip’s Christian College, Waratah.

She sat English Papers 1 and 2 this week and will tackle General Maths next Friday.

“When I put down that pen I’ll be thinking ‘I made it’,” she said. “‘I made it over every obstacle, all the hassles I ever had and all those sleepless nights’. I’ve come a long way. Even though I’ve only been here for a year, I’ve grown so much and am becoming the person I want to be.”

Ms Ellis, the oldest of nine siblings, planned to have a baby with her partner soon after she was told she had endometriosis. 

She found out she was pregnant four days before a scheduled hysterectomy, in the first term of year 12.

“I started getting really sick and school was not working for me,” she said.

Ms Ellis left in May and started attending DALE four days a week. Students pay $5 a day or a maximum of $15 a week for their tuition and their children to attend an on-site creche.

“It was a lot less full on and they really understood what I needed,” she said. “When I was feeling sick I was able to come in and lie on the lounge or go outside to get fresh air.

“They really listened to me and cared about what was going on. It was really important for me to get out of bed and think ‘I’m having a horrible day, but they will be there to help and lean on’.”

Ms Ellis gave birth on December 11, 2015, three days after dancing to Nutbush City Limits at the school formal.

She returned to DALE at the start of this year.

“It’s amazing having Lila here on site and being able to watch her grow up and play,” she said. “I don’t miss out on any of it, but I also get to do what I want to do in my life as well. There’s no hassles if you’re a little late and people understand when you say ‘My baby is teething and won’t sleep’.”

Ms Ellis hopes to study nursing at TAFE or join the University of Newcastle’s Yapug pathway program next year. She said she relished helping others and wanted to pursue medicine.

“I don’t care how long it takes to get there, I will get there,” she said. “Plus I will have a little girl there to cheer me on. She’s a big part of my motivation to keep going. 

“I want to show her that no matter what happens in life, if she wants to do something and works towards it she can achieve anything.”

DALE team leader Coral Edwards said the school owed its 15 years of success to being flexible, financially accessible and teaching parenting and life skills, alongside offering academic guidance.

Ms Edwards said many students felt judged and had grown up feeling they had been unfairly labelled.

“It’s critical they see the other side of that story, that they are incredibly valuable and wonderful young people,” Ms Edwards said.

“We think they’re champions, we see their potential and believe they can reach their potential.

“We see the value in these young people and we want to support their desire to change their circumstances for their children – that’s what drives them, it’s about what they can do for their little ones.”

Rachael Cumins, 20, left school midway through year 11 and was working, before her franchisee workplace closed and she fell pregnant with her son Sebastian, almost two.

She studied for a certificate three in business while pregnant and enrolled at DALE last year when her son was eight months old.

“I was expecting a lot more people than what there was, I did not realise I would be getting so much one-on-one help,” she said.

“You could breastfeed in the classroom and there was a phone, so the creche could call and you could run up and get your children settled.”

Ms Cumins eventually wants to study forensic science.

“I want to be a good role model and I want to achieve,” she said.

“People judge us mums as not able to get anywhere in life and that we can’t juggle it.

“We’re proving that we can.”