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Thursday, 5 December 2013
Page: 1863


Mr GRIFFIN (Bruce) (11:23): I rise today to speak about a school in my electorate, the Emerson School, and to congratulate the school and the school community on the occasion of its 40th anniversary, which was celebrated in the last few weeks. I had the honour of attending celebrations surrounding this significant anniversary at the beginning of November. Emerson school is a specialist school which provides a dynamic range of programs for primary and secondary students with mild intellectual processing disabilities. It has a reputation for providing quality services to a region which includes Rowville in the north, Hampton Park in the south, Mulgrave and Springvale in the west and out to Pakenham in the east.

Since opening its doors in 1973, Emerson School has grown to be one of the largest specialist schools in Victoria. Over 2,170 students have participated in Emerson's program since its beginning. The school itself has steadily grown to an enrolment of around 400 students and a staff of 98. Situated in the metropolitan area of Dandenong, the Emerson School is the largest combined specialist primary and secondary school in Victoria. The school provides a wide range of educational, therapeutic and developmental programs to students who have been identified as having mild intellectual processing disabilities.

The school has an ethos which emphasises the development of skills and talents in every student. The parents and staff at Emerson are very passionate about giving families a range of choices when choosing a school which best fits the educational needs of a student. The school aims to 'unlock the potential within'.

One of the main features of the school is the way in which students find their feet and develop an ambition to be successful. It is wonderful to note that students who formerly had a low self-image are now senior student leaders at the school. The school works on building skills and achievements. In the last year, 30 students completed school based traineeships. They were based at a local not-for-profit company in Dandenong South, Water2All, which distributes water and clothing to charities. Emerson students completed a certificate III in warehousing and logistics. This recognised qualification counts towards further TAFE studies. Eight other students completed certificate II in first aid.

There are a number of other programs which Emerson is rightly proud of. They run a volunteer program with the Puffing Billy Preservation Society. Approximately 12 students participate weekly in this program, undertaking painting and maintenance work. A group of students also participate in a fortnightly program with the City of Greater Dandenong, performing maintenance work in the council's parks and recreational areas as part of the school's horticultural program.

There was an article recently in one of the local papers, the Dandenong Journal, which I think encapsulates the story of Emerson and the fact that so many should be so proud of what it has done over the years. The article said:

The Dandenong school celebrated its 40th anniversary with a dinner dance and fun fair on 1 and 2 November.

Junior and senior campus principal Dianne Wright said the school for pupils with mild intellectual disabilities was education department bureaucrat Les Emerson's vision.

"Every kid deserves an opportunity," she said.

Ms Wright said the concept was to support kids languishing at the bottom of their class.

"It was an opportunity for those kids to shine," she said.

"Our school is the difference between being a recluse from society and actually giving back to society.

"Our aim is for our students to be gainfully employed."

The school started with 144 pupils and now has more than 410.

"I've been there since 1985," Ms Wright said.

"I was only going to stay for a few years. I chose it because my mum lived nearby at the time."

She planned to stay until her toddler son started primary school.

"Now Bradley's 31 and I'm still here," she said.

"I really believe that what we do here makes a difference to the lives of the kids we have."

Ms Wright said the school had a fantastic weekend of celebrations.

There is no doubt that Emerson provides opportunities for kids that need help to realise what they can be. The school's longstanding principal John Mooney, who I am very pleased to know and call a friend, is someone who has enormous respect within the local community. John and his staff are dynamic, committed and working together to build these children up to be all that they can be. I have met some of their students and there is no doubt you can see the change. When they talk about what they have learnt and how they have been able to work within that structure to realise achievements, it is uplifting and inspiring. I know John has worked hard within the local community, with businesses and community groups, to build links to ensure that that school is part of the community. They should all be very proud of the work that they have done. They should all be very proud of the school that they have. It is a great pleasure to have been there for their celebrations and to say, 'Well done.'

Federation Chamber adjourned at 11:29