In 2019, Alia College in Melbourne celebrates its 20-year anniversary. The school is the dream child of Bob Morgan, an educator with over 40 years of teaching experience. Over this time, Mr Morgan developed the aspirations and built the vision for a different type of school, and as his own children came to secondary school age he began to think about how he could create such an environment, and make a difference. He met up with like-minded educators and began gathering teachers and students around a vision of the school that exists there today.
The school opened in January 1999 with just Year 7 and 8 students and now has students from Years 7-12. Alia College has also taken in international students, with students coming for both short-term exchanges and for a few years to complete their schooling at Alia, from places such as China, France, Germany, Japan, and Sri Lanka.
The school has also supported students with a wide variety of educational needs and goals, from those who simply wanted to finish high school in a less pressured environment, to those looking to achieve 90.00+ ATARs at the end of Year 12. Because of the school’s individualised focus, and prioritising of students’ desired outcomes, Alia College has been able to provide a conducive learning environment to a diverse range of students, and continues to do so today.
Indeed, at each of the annual alumni gatherings, it is always delightful to hear the stories of success and achievements from former students. Some have even started up their own businesses, more recent graduates are often studying, and some of the first graduates of the school have become doctors and physicists. In 2018, all graduates received offers for their first preference for tertiary courses, and Alia College wishes them luck for those new chapters starting shortly.
From humble beginnings in a house in Queens Street, Hawthorn East, Alia College expanded to a Scout Hall in Victoria Street, Hawthorn East, then to a commercial building in Burwood Road, Hawthorn East. This was followed by a few years at Yallambee, the former Preshil middle school building and home of Victorian High Court justice Sir Owen Dixon.
In fact, within the last 20 years too, there have been six different school sites, all in Hawthorn East. The school moved between various leased premises before purchasing the current site: Kawarau, a heritage-listed 1900s Italianate mansion on Tooronga Road in Hawthorn East, which the school moved into in 2006. There is a poignant suitability to this, as Kawarau’s original owner, merchant and philanthropist Frederick Cato, was deeply passionate about education, and donated significant amounts to various educational institutions over his lifetime. With the help of a grant through the federal government’s Capital Grants Program, Alia College purchased the Kawarau building and grounds in 2016, giving the school a permanent home, and a secure site for its students to thrive. The purchase has allowed the school to invest in lasting projects, such as the kitchen garden, whose harvest is often used as part of the Year 7 and 8 ‘Grub Club’ cooking class.
Over the last 20 years, despite growth and changed sites, the school values of respect, of open communication, and of providing an environment most conducive to learning are still strong. These are embodied in the way that teachers and students treat each other and develop relationships. The daily homeroom meetings, democratically run by students, help to build this culture, and the practice of respect and tolerance within the school community.
The student focus of the school is also evident in the flexible and varied subjects taught across the school, particularly at VCE level. Each year, as student cohorts change from Maths/Science oriented to Arts- or Humanities-oriented and back again, the subjects run are tailored to student interest. The school also offers three different languages from Year 7 all the way until Year 12: French, Japanese, and Latin. Within these languages, students not only have the opportunity to broaden their cultural horizons, but also to participate in exchanges abroad. Many Alia College students have gone to spend significant amounts of time in Japan or France, going to local schools and staying with a local family, which both enhances their language skills, and their understanding of a different culture. The school is fortunate to also have a dedicated staff body with a wide range of teaching methods, enabling the delivery of quality education to continue year after year, across a broad scope of disciplines. Teachers are called by their first names, there are no bells, no uniform, and smaller class sizes create enhanced relationships between teachers, students, parents and administration staff.
The democratic style of the school also sees students having a voice in significant aspects of how the school runs, from giving input on recruitment and enrolment, to running meetings and school events, including information nights for prospective families and whole-school camps. This not only helps to empower students, but also prepares them for the responsibilities and self-management skills that are so valuable throughout life beyond high school.
In late 2018, students undertook the LEAD School Effectiveness Survey, run through Independent Schools Victoria. The results of this indicated that students felt encouraged to be responsible for their own learning, felt provided with opportunities to develop leadership skills, and felt accepted for who they are. These responses were even more pronounced among Year 12 students, who also felt strongly that they had been prepared for taking an active role in society. Within such a small student body, the majority nature of these survey responses is statistically significant, and displays some of the benefits students experience at Alia College.
Having reached this point, it is an exciting time to be able to plan for the future. The school is now able to look at expanding to extra campuses, including a country property where students regularly travel for camps, building their outdoor education and skills catalogue in more rugged conditions. The possibilities not only for continuing to provide an education free from extraneous pressures, such as uniforms, bells, and rigid rules and punishments, and an environment that allows learning, respect, and personal growth to flourish, but also to expand this education and environment into the future, really are invigorating.
Alia College says it is thrilled to have reached its 20-year anniversary, a testament to the school’s vision and philosophy, and of the efficacy and utility of the values enshrined within them. It is thanks to the hard work and commitment of teachers, administration staff, volunteers, Mr Morgan and his wife Lesley and all of the present and past students and their families. Alia College looks forward to all that lies ahead for the school in its next chapter.