FOUR FREEHILLS staff members were among a distinguished array of guests at the Macquarie Fields High School expo which took place recently.
The Freehills team, along with guests including the Governor of NSW, Professor Marie Bashir and the director general of the NSW Department of Education and Training, Michael Coutts-Trotter, headed to Sydney’s southwest to help the students celebrate their school and achievements.
Freehills has a unique relationship with Macquarie Fields High School and is now in its fifth year of a mentoring program with the school’s students. The program was developed out of a wider mentoring program initiated by Jennifer McVicar through the Law Society of NSW Young Lawyers.
This year, 23 year-nine students have each been matched up with a mentor from Freehills to take part in an eight-week program which began in April.
Annette Bain, Freehills’ pro bono counsel and executive pro bono co-ordinator of the Freehills Foundation, explained that the students and mentors meet on a fortnightly basis in a group environment to discuss issues ranging from bullying to career opportunities and racism.
“Even the experience of coming into a city office is often novel, and even coming into the CBD is not a typical experience for every child of the school,” Bain said.
The students also take part in organised social functions, which have included having lunch at a Lebanese restaurant, going bowling and seeing a play produced by Freehills’ education partner, the theatre company “Company B”.
According to Bain, the program is extremely popular with both the school and the Freehills staff. “The kids themselves are really keen and they see it as something to aspire to, which is fantastic. And when we put out our emails saying that we want mentors, we just get a flood. It has a great impact at this end,” Bain said.
“It does have a profound effect on both [groups] — it’s a really mutual relationship.”
The Macquarie Fields High School expo, which was organised by the school’s Student Representative Council (SRC), showcased a spectrum of the students’ talents and achievements. Students’ artwork, business and science projects were on display, and attendees were treated to dance and musical performances as well as a humorous student debate on whether or not exams should be abolished.
In addition, the year 12 hospitality students served up an array of cuisines for lunch.
The school captains were the masters of ceremony for the expo, and Professor Marie Bashir and Michael Coutts-Trotter were among the speakers on the day.
According to Bain, the expo was also part of a concerted effort by the students to paint their school in a positive light, as the image of the Macquarie Fields district is still suffering in the wake of the Macquarie Fields riots in 2005.
“To this day, people still raise their eyebrows when we say we work with Macquarie Fields,” Bain said. “And that’s such an unfair image because when you go out there you see that it’s a really positive, fabulous, school with a great learning environment.”
Speaking at the expo, the school’s deputy principal, Nick Magriplis, said that following the riots, the SRC surveyed students and staff asking whether the school should change its name because of this poor image — a proposition that was overwhelmingly rejected.
“They said they wanted to retain the name and really promote [the school] and show their true colours and show what they’re about,” Bain said. “And that’s what they did.”