Cassandra Masterson was 16 and couch-surfing when a friend told her about the Highwater Theatre School.
“It wasn’t looking positive for me at all,” she said.
“I turned to drugs, I took myself down, I didn’t know better than the environment I had lived in all my life.
“I was sick of doing nothing and decided to go along.”
The year Ms Masterson joined Highwater in 2007 was the year she “found herself”.
“I felt like I could trust somebody and started achieving things – I wanted more,” she said.
“I didn’t want to be my mum or my dad.
“I wanted to be the person who could break the chain for my children, our future and my community.”
Ms Masterson went on to complete her year 12 drama.
Now, she is working to begin a Diploma of Creative Arts, performing and mentoring at Highwater.
“We have kids in residential care or who are still living at the house of their violent parents,” she said.
“We pick them up, bring them to school and we sit down one-on-one and give them breakfast.
“A lot of our success stories are simply surviving.”
They’re stories that hit home for the young mother.
“All I want is for people to feel safe, because I never had that opportunity when I was young,” she said.
“As a little girl, I never wanted to be rich or famous.
“I dreamt of having a fireplace and a warm, safe house – and now I have that.”
For 16 years the Highwater Theatre School has provided education for disadvantaged youth who have fallen out of mainstream schooling.
Highwater Theatre School success over the years
Participant profiles (2010-2013)
- 92 per cent experienced homelessness
- 88 per cent have been known victims of abuse – physical, sexual and or emotional
- 90 per cent have witnessed/experienced domestic violence
- 80 per cent had prior contact with police
- 65 per cent have self-harmed and/or attempted suicide
- 2520 students reached, average attendance rate 85 per cent
- 85 per cent of participants re-entered mainstream school, training or employment
- 100 per cent reported reduction of drug and alcohol use
- More than 300 performances produced
- 6 students completed year 12 VCE
- 6 gained full-time employment
- 1 completed university degree in criminology
- 1 undertaking Masters of Social Work
It’s been made possible by Melbourne-based theatre company Somebody’s Daughter, the Victorian Department of Education, and Gateway Health.
The latter will cease funding the school in 2017, and if a replacement partner is not found, the school’s future is in jeopardy.
Wodonga Senior Secondary College principal Vern Hilditch has appealed to the federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham to fill the $300,000 funding shortfall.
“The strength of this program has been the partnership,” he said.
“It had the performance side through Somebody’s Daughter, the student well-being through Gateway health and the education through the school.
“It isn’t just the education or the agency that works with them – you need to bring it together.
“Sure, education will continue, but the nature of what they require will disappear and that will be a tragedy.”
In the proposal to the federal government, statistics show 88 per cent of participants have been known victims of abuse and 65 per cent have self-harmed or attempted suicide.
Mr Hilditch said this was the reason finding a third body, who provided a youth support worker, was so important.
“It is all about taking on those issues in their lives and the traumas they have gone through and helping them move on,” he said.
Highwater Theatre School are currently assessing funding options before the school term begins.
Corienne Krich, chief executive of not-for-profit organisation Junction Support Services, confirmed the not-for-profit organisation was talking with the school.
“We are committed to helping young people in Wodonga and we are in discussions about the future of Highwater Theatre,” she said.
Somebody’s Daughter Theatre Company artistic director Maud Clark said there was nothing like the program in Victoria.
“We have been crawling on our knees for funding for the last 15 years to keep this surviving,” she said.
“I would hope for a program making such in-roads, it would be a no-brainer it’s funded.”