Do you remember your final year of high school?

For most Australians, Year 12 is their final year of high school, the year almost everything seems to change. Most Year 12 students celebrate their 18th birthday, discovering the head-pounding regrets of partying on a school night. Drivers’ licences are obtained, university submissions are sent, gap years are planned, and jobs are lined up; each experience is individual, all comprise myriad change.

For the class of 2022, these Year 12 students have faced unprecedented challenges throughout their senior schooling years, adapting to online learning as COVID-19 disrupted face-to-face learning.

Last year, the number of students completing Year 12 across the country plummeted to its lowest level in years, dropping from 1.9 million in 2020 to 1.79 million in 2021; Victoria totalling the most significant decline, with 56,100 fewer Year 12 students completing their final year in 2021 than the previous year. The last time Year 12 completions fell below 1.8 million was in 2017.

While data for Year 12 completions in 2022 are yet to be finalised, focus is on the thousands of local Year 12 students as they race toward the end of their high-school careers.

Catholic College Sale Year 12s Ryan Beale, Harry Gravener and Gaby Stephenson. Photos: Zoe Askew

Year 12 students from Catholic College Sale have valiantly overcome the adversities accompanying online learning, returning to full-time, face-to-face learning for the final schooling year.

While the return to face-to-face learning was a fresh and widely welcomed change for Catholic College Sale students Charli O’Loughlin, Ella McCubbin, Ryan Beale, Gaby Stephenson and Harry Gravener, navigating their way back into a more pre-COVID routine posed an unexpected challenge.

“I found it kind of hard to adjust to the workload,” Charli said.

“Because over COVID, it was slightly adjusted, so it took the first two months or so to get used to it [face-to-face learning], like to get back into the rhythm of it.”

Ella McCubbin and Charli O’Loughlin, Catholic College Sale Class of 2022.

Charli, Ella, Ryan, Gaby and Harry agreed that returning to a ‘normal’ school routine, which in Year 12 is by far the most demanding, especially for those doing VCE, was the most challenging aspect of their final schooling year. However, the Catholic College students had no other objective than to overcome the adversities they faced over the past two years, and were quick to focus on the positives. Friendships, new and old, teachers, whom they eulogised, and the myriad services available at the Sisters of Our Lady of Sion and Marist Brothers school.

“Continuing to regularly study, to find the motivation to study [after COVID] was the hardest part,” Harry said.

“But I love coming to school because you’ve got all your mates, and I feel like you’re even closer to your Year 12 mates when you are here, like as a cohort, we are all closer together, so it’s more inviting to come to school.”

Gaby also feels that the Catholic College Sale class of 2022 has become closer as a result of the struggles they endured together throughout the pandemic.

“Coming out of COVID, getting into a routine and good study habit and learning how to do it throughout a whole year because our introduction to VCE in Years 10 and 11 was very disruptive was definitely the hardest part,” Gaby said.

“I know that is probably cliché, but studying is hard, but as Harry said, when you’ve got your mates around you, it does make it easier, and we’ve definitely got closer as a year level, that’s for sure.

“Plus, we’ve got great facilities here, study centres, so we make use of them, and our teachers are so dedicated. The way they go above and beyond for their students really helps.”

On the subject of Catholic College Sale teachers, the name Ken Holmes, director of senior studies, and Andrea Sim, repeatedly emerged in conversation with this year’s Year 12 students.

“I had Holmesy this year and last year for PE,” Harry said.

“He’s really good. He makes it very interesting, Ms Sim as well; they are probably my favourite teachers.”

Gaby says it is no coincidence that Mr Holmes’s and Ms Sim’s classes are her favourite and highest performing, owing to the effort, dedication and support they provide to their students.

Mr Holmes began teaching at Catholic College Sale in 1986, introducing PE as a Year 12 subject. After commencing his teaching career at Catholic College Sale, Mr Holmes moved away for 10 years, only to return to the local school, where he has continued to teach PE and psychology for many years.

While Charli named Scott Fitzgerald as one of her most influential teachers, not only in Year 12 but throughout her senior schooling years, and Ella named Ann Roth, the pair shares an affection for teachers Jane Robins and Julia Morton.

“There are so many amazing teachers,” Ella and Charli said.

Ken Holmes, director of senior studies, and Cindy Foat, Catholic College Sale deputy principal of learning and teaching.

Catholic College Sale deputy principal of learning and teaching Cindy Foat, and Mr Holmes have praised the Year 12 class of 2022 for its resilience and ability to overcome the adversities of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’ve had interrupted years for the previous two years, this year we have been for the whole year, and personally, I think it has really brought this group of Year 12’s together,” Ms Foat said.

“They have been in it together; they really understood what it was like, not to be together. We’ve got a Year 12 study space which we call the Ratisbonne Centre, and we have never seen it used so much since we broke up.

“Every day, that space has continued to be used; we are in our third week of exams and will still have large groups of students and teachers up there, and the students are still very invested in what each other has to say.”

“What I would say about this year’s Year 12s is they actually really value each other and support one another; the level of care and respect they have for each other and the staff is a big one.”

In his final year of teaching at Catholic College Sale, Mr Holmes warmly welcomed the return of an uninterrupted school year and all the accompanying prospects with no restrictions.

“The best part of the year was the fact that we were all back together again,” Mr Holmes said.

“We had assemblies again, we had masses again, we were able to use the facilities again, these brand new facilities that the kids haven’t fully been able to use for the last two years.

“To me, that was the best part of the year, just having the kids here all day, every day, without any interruptions.”

One of the highlights of Mr Holmes’s final year of teaching was the Catholic College Sale performing arts day.

“Every year, we have a performing arts day, which we haven’t had for a couple of years, and you just had to be there,” Mr Holmes said.

“It was just the most amazing thing, certainly in my time here, to watch those kids, how they responded to the performers, and how they helped one another; it was sensational.

“The performing arts day, to me, really summed up the Year 12s, and it summed up this place; it was just brilliant.”

As Catholic College Sale says goodbye to the Year 12 class of 2022 and Mr Holmes, Charli, Ella, Ryan, Harry, and Gaby leave a parting word of advice for the Year 12 class of 2023.

Ella McCubbin and Charli O’Loughlin are excited to start their next stage of life. Next year, Ella plans to do a performing arts course in Ballarat and Charli is interested in securing a teaching traineeship at Catholic College Sale.

“Start taking notes early and try not to stress so much about your ATAR because there are so many other pathways,” Charli said.

“Don’t leave things to the last minute; start from the start even if it feels like you won’t need it for the exams, you will need it for the exams, and keep your notes,” Ella said.

“Don’t stress too much; find your study habit early and stick to it,” Ryan said.

“Start your studying early but don’t be too stressed if it doesn’t exactly go your way right at the start,” Harry said.

“Enjoy yourself; it is probably the last year before a lot of stress, so make the most of your time and branch out, meet new people, talk to people you wouldn’t normally, build friendships that you never thought you’d have, it can be really, really good in your last year, knowing you’ve come out of it with a lot more friends than you did going into it,” Gabby said.

Ryan, Gaby and Harry all have plans to head straight into university degrees in 2023.

Here’s to the class of 2022.