Victoria’s Alpine School has been intervening in the education of Year 9 students for 20 years.

Story Terri Cowley

The benefits of a specialist program for Year 9 students have long been recognised and embraced in the Australian private-school system. The idea that children at public schools shouldn’t miss out on this opportunity – at a time when attendance and engagement is at its lowest – formed the basis for the establishment of Victoria’s Alpine School two decades ago.

Founding principal Mark Reeves remains at the helm of the now three-campus school, which plucks city and country students out of their everyday high schools and parachutes them in to an unfamiliar environment with a vastly different curriculum for a term. “We think that students in Year 9 are at the right psychological and social time of development to have a period away from family and friends and school,” Mark says. “Anthropologists call it a rite of passage – an experience that helps them transition from childhood to adulthood. There needs to be a physical, emotional or psychological journey. Living away from their normal environment is fundamental.”

The original Alpine School campus was built at Dinner Plain, with philanthropic support from the Mount Hotham Skiing Company. It saw the establishment of a school as key to the creation of a village, extending the social and economic viability of the town beyond the winter season. With demand increasing, campuses have been added at Marlo (Snowy River) in 2007 and Glenormiston South (Gnurad-Gundidj) in 2009.

Mirella Mott lives on a grain farm, attends Tyrrell College, Sea Lake, and has ambitions to study agricultural science. She attended the Snowy River campus for the first term of 2019 and was hoping to build her self-confidence. The experience delivered in spades. “At first I was shy and not really sure about it, but by the end it was better than my expectations,” Mirella says. “Year 9 is when we start to misbehave because we’re growing up so much; everyone seems to change and we can lose our way. We have improved our level of respect for the teachers. I probably would have improved my self-confidence most of all by continuing to push myself and having to talk to new people and put myself in to those tough situations.”

This story excerpt is from Issue #125

Outback Magazine: June/July 2019