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Realising true potential

 | 21 November 2017

“There is no greater joy than seeing one of my students achieve a goal we have worked on. I’m so blessed to see them realise their true potential.”

Butler College education assistant Marie Dunne has experienced this feeling many times in her career. She admits it makes her emotional to see her students, who have disability and diverse learning needs, thrive.  

“The other day I saw one of my former students confidently walking through the school,” she explains.

Marie Dunne is a finalist for WA Education Assistant of the Year in the WA Education Awards 2017.

“You may think there’s nothing special about that, but when I first met this young lady she was a timid and scared girl who was completely reliant on others to complete the simplest of tasks.

“I worked alongside her for more than two years, gently encouraging her and building her confidence and each small step forward opened the door to another, and she just blossomed.

“Watching her smiling and walking through the school that day brought a tear to my eye.”

Mrs Dunne has come a long way since growing up in a farming town on the outskirts of York in England. She recalls a childhood playing with her siblings and picking blackberries to bake pies with her grandparents.

A ‘rebellious teenager,’ she admits becoming a mother at the age of 19 was the impetus to turn her life around.

“I fell head over heels in love with my precious daughter and vowed to be the best parent I could,” she recalls. “I learnt that tomorrow is promised to no one so to embrace every opportunity that comes your way.”

Mrs Dunne’s journey from a career in occupational therapy to education proves she stays true to her word. She describes being “completely hooked” when she started volunteering in an education support centre and realised the potential to improve a child’s quality of life through education.

Her Butler College peers are glad she did. Specialist teacher Trevor Forde says it’s Mrs Dunne’s ability to adjust her calm personality to each individual student that has had impressive results.

“Marie tries different teaching methods until she finds what works for her students,” he says.

“She helps them gain their own independence by using the SMART board to set out their daily tasks in pictures to ensure they are settled and ready for the day.

“She has cue cards on her at all times, and uses scripts, words and pictures to answer students’ questions.

“We’ve seen a decline in aggressive and anxious student behaviour, especially at the start of the school day.”

Sophie Sherlock from student services says Mrs Dunne faces every challenge thrown at her with a smile and an attitude to succeed.

“She has worked with our most difficult students and has managed to turn their lives around for a brighter future,” she says.

Mrs Dunne – who is a finalist for WA Education Assistant of the Year in the WA Education Awards – believes she’s the lucky one.

“The best part of my job is knowing that I have made a positive difference to a child and their family.”