For profoundly deaf student Caroline Firus the hardest part of completing year 12 during the coronavirus pandemic was the masks.
“I found it very difficult and stressful to interact with people due to mandatory wearing of face masks as this prevented me from lip reading and understanding facial expressions,” she said.
Caroline Firus has just finished her VCE.Credit:Jason South
But there were some unexpected positives despite the state’s hard lockdown measures.
“Due to my school being in a remote area, I was already studying Auslan through Zoom with the Victorian College for the Deaf and food studies through Virtual School Victoria before COVID-19 restrictions began, so I had some skills to help me adapt to this way of learning and stay motivated through full remote learning,” she said.
As one of 120 students at one of the state’s most remote schools, Swifts Creek P-12 School in East Gippsland, Caroline went to great lengths to complete her studies. She travelled six hours to Melbourne to sit her Auslan interactive sign exam.
“This occurred during Melbourne’s stage three lockdown restrictions, which complicated my journey as travel to Melbourne’s metropolitan area required a permit, adding to my exam stress,” she said.
“I found the Auslan exam easier than my other exams as Auslan is my first language, whereas I had to complete the rest of my exams in written English, which is my second language.”
With her mother working as her Auslan aide and interpreter and her friends and teachers trying to learn some sign language, Caroline has forged tight bonds at her school.
“The average day at school can be a little isolating when you are the only deaf student, however I have made good friends. I had such supportive, caring teachers who were always there to help when I was unsure about anything.”
Swifts Creek principal Robert Boucher said Caroline had worked hard and the school community had united around her.
“She’s courageous, she has a kind disposition, she’s extremely joyous,” he said.
“The fact that she sat exams is a success full stop."
With exams finished, Caroline has her sights set on university and becoming a teacher for deaf children.
“Deaf students have the same right to education as hearing students, and I believe strongly that deaf students need access to similar educational opportunities to other students,” she said.
“I want to increase awareness of Auslan and deaf culture within the wider community.”
The challenging year is ending on a happy note for Caroline and her family.
“I am proud of my accomplishments and will never forget how this year has taught me about my own strength,” she said.
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