Jessica McKenzie: Learning with Learn Local

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Jessica McKenzie holding the 2011 Learn Local Outstanding Learner Award22-year-old Jessica McKenzie, winner of the 2011 Learn Local Outstanding Learner Award, was raised in a family with three biological siblings and a constant minimum of an extra three foster siblings at any given time.

During Jessica’s childhood she was constantly giving things up to provide for the extra kids coming into her family home. The lack of support she received from her parents as a result eventually lead to anxiety, depression and an eating disorder by the age of 14.

Eventually Jessica overcame her battle with anxiety and her eating disorder, but her depression is something she will most likely struggle off and on with for the rest of her life. However, she does not see her depression as having an impact on her potential for the future.

Facing Challenges

In year nine Jessica was thrown out of school, but that did not stop the drive she had or her passion for learning.

At the age of 19 Jessica lost her family home in the Black Saturday fires, which saw her family moving in and out of transitional housing for 12 months. Finally her family settled into a new home, but unfortunately her family circumstances broke down, which left Jessica homeless for another six months. Jessica is now back on her feet and "at least in my opinion doing pretty well for myself."

Jessica started year seven at Diamond Valley College, where she stayed until part of the way through year nine. She has studied VCE three times as well as VCAL. Jessica also studied Certificate III in Children’s Services, Certificate II in Community Services, and Auslan Level 1.

She has studied at many places including Eltham Living & Learning Centre, Lynal Hall Community Centre, Diamond Valley Learning Centre and as part of distance education. Currently she is at La Trobe University studying a BA in Business.

It was Jessica's passion for education and her determination to succeed that drew the attention of the Award judges.

A Self-Confidence Boost

For Jessica, winning the Outstanding Learner award really opened her eyes to see that despite her self-doubt she could do anything she wanted. She is extremely grateful for the support she has had to help her see that she could push on no matter what she thought her limits were.

Ever since she was a teenager Jess had been told she was useless and would never amount to anything. "To win an award like this," says Jess, "for lack of better words, really made me realise that I can be whatever I want to be if I put the effort in and don’t pay attention to people’s negativity."

"Just Do Something"

There were a lot of reasons that drove Jessica to push on with her education: her love for learning, her hatred for quitting, and a desire to prove people wrong. Mostly she wanted to prove her supporters right, to show that they were right to believe that she could be anything she wanted.

Jess believes that there will always be someone or something there to pick you up and push you when you can’t for yourself.

Jessica sees that often when people are struggling with their education it's because their environment isn’t suited to their needs and wants. Her advice?

"I would advise hang in there, stay in the system and keep up a routine until you figure out where exactly it is you want to be, then move along."

Living by the philosophy "just do something", Jessica is, all in all, a well-rounded individual with the strength and determination to push on through whatever life may throw at her. She is now focusing on university studies, work and staying healthy.

To find out more about Learn Local and your further study options, check out our Learn Local page.

This article was written by Bonnie, one of Youth Central's many talented young roving reporters. To find out more about writing for Youth Central, check out our Get Published pages.