Merrylands' Chapel School marks 10 years with youth

Key for education: Chapel School — Key College ex-student Jessica and Youth off the Streets (YOTS) chief executive Father Chris Riley were among those who celebrated 10 years of the Merrylands school on Tuesday. Picture: Gene Ramirez

Key for education: Chapel School — Key College ex-student Jessica and Youth off the Streets (YOTS) chief executive Father Chris Riley were among those who celebrated 10 years of the Merrylands school on Tuesday. Picture: Gene Ramirez

At 13 Jessica wanted an education, but when drugs became more important to her mother than putting food on the table she dropped out of school to care for her two younger sisters.

A year later in 2004, a youth worker and truancy officer from Pendle Hill High School suggested Jessica attend Youth Off The Streets Chapel School in Merrylands.

Classes began in a room at Merrylands Library with six young people and transferred to the Kenyons Road site where the organisation had previously run a drug-and-alcohol program.

On the 10th anniversary of the accredited high school for year 9 and year 10 students, Jessica told visitors at the open day how much the opportunity to complete year 9 had meant to her.

"It was the best thing that had ever happened to me.

"I was such a shy kid when I started but after a while I came out of that shell and never looked back.

"It was different from mainstream, easier here.

"You weren't bullied or picked on. You were made to feel like you were welcome."

YOTS chief executive Father Chris Riley said the school site, an oasis of calm near to Parramatta, was his favourite.

It has grown to include 56 students in the main buildings and 18 in ASPIRE, a program for Aboriginal students. There Father Riley sometimes teaches youth in year 11 and year 12 who are involved in the Step Up program.

"The team here is just an amazing team," he said.

"It was a strange beginning — It wasn't planned, really.

"Backyard Blitz rang and said they wanted to do a makeover of the site, so they fixed it all up.

"I was going to close the doors and forget about it, but Lou who's in charge of our schools got it there."

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