How two educators help children to break the cycle of disadvantage

Good education makes for stronger communities.
Dec 14, 2021
Romina Maione and Andrew FitzSimons

By going the extra yards two educators have saved hundreds of children from the cycle of dropping out of education and into long term disadvantage.

A teacher since 1976, Principal of Dapto High School, Andrew FitzSimons has fostered a range of innovative partnerships with local community groups and organisations like The Smith Family, to ensure children from low socioeconomic backgrounds are supported in their education.

“Our work is real, authentic and valuable. If Dapto High School is a good school, then our community is safer, more creative, resilient, and productive,” said FitzSimons.

“The role of principal gives me extraordinary opportunities and responsibilities, and while these can sometimes seem overwhelming, I love it.

“When I need a lift, I walk the school and my interactions with students inspires and energises me.”

At Albion Park Rail Public School, deputy principal Romina Maione refers children who need extra support for their education to The Smith Family’s Learning for Life program. In partnership with The Smith Family the school has launched an after-school Learning Club staffed by volunteers to give students who need additional educational support a hand up.

Maione is committed to improving students’ wellbeing and said her   enthusiasm for education is just as strong today as it was when she started teaching two decades ago.

“The greatest accomplishments are seeing students master a skill like learning to read or write, but most of all seeing them fall in love with learning,” she said.

“I have so many wonderful memories of the schools I have worked in, the students I have taught, the staff I have worked with and the families I have gotten to know.”

Both have won an Award for Powering Potential from the National Excellence in Teaching Awards (NEiTA) in partnership with The Smith Family. This new accolade recognises the extraordinary contribution educators make to students experiencing disadvantage.

“I feel very honoured to be receiving such an award, especially considering the number of outstanding educators in Australia,” Maione said.

FitzSimons also said he is quietly “chuffed” about winning a NEiTA Award.

“In my 18th year as principal of Dapto High School, this accolade is a new experience. I am in the second half of my professional career now and this award has energised and encouraged me,” he said.

NEiTA Chairman, Allen Blewitt, said educators like Andrew and Romina display outstanding resilience, passion and creativity every day.

“These qualities have become all the more important during the pandemic,” Blewitt said.

“Teachers have been at the frontline, adapting to the pressures of lockdowns and virtual teaching, while caring for student wellbeing.

“The NEiTA Awards were established to recognise inspirational teachers in the community. We understand the potential of education to change lives, but it is our teachers who effect that change.”

Deputy CEO of The Smith Family, Judy Barraclough said, because of the education charity’s partnership with Futurity Investment Group, which funds the NEiTA Foundation, 70 young Australian experiencing disadvantage are supported every year.

“Together, we’re ensuring these students have the essentials they need to succeed at school and go on to finish Year 12.

“Supporting a child’s education is an effective way of helping children to create better futures for themselves.”

The National Excellence in Teaching Awards started in 1994 in Australia and 1996 in New Zealand. Since inception, nearly 40,000 teachers have been nominated by the community in the two countries. More than 1,075 teachers have received over $1.2 million in professional development grants and prizes.