Region’s top VCE achievers of 2021

Kurnai College: University Campus principal Geoff Block and Sophie Kootstra, who was awarded dux with an ATAR of 95.0.

Alyssa Fritzlaff

THIS year’s Year 12 VCE students finally received their ATAR results last week.

The moment they had all been waiting for finally arrived on the morning of Thursday, December 16 at 7am.

For many, their hard worked paid off in the form of an ATAR in the 80s or even the 90s.

For some, the score is a demonstration of the adversity they have overcome.

They each hold hopes their incredible results will act as a springboard for a successful future.

The Express talked with some of the region’s highest achievers.

Kurnai College

SOPHIE Kootstra was awarded dux of Kurnai College with an ATAR of 95.0.

A Yinnar local, she has lived in the area her whole life.

“I was aiming for an 80 or 85,” Sophie told The Express.

“It was just so unexpected. I just started crying – I couldn’t believe it.”

The last few years have been a battle for Sophie, so the knowledge that she had achieved such a fantastic score meant even more to her and her family.

In 2019, at the age of just 15, she suffered heart failure due to a genetic tumour and had to be put on life support in an induced coma for eight days. This had a major impact on the remainder of her schooling.

“While in the coma I was on ECMO… and there was a clot, and I had a stroke as a result,” she explained.

“After eight days I woke up from the coma… I had to learn how to walk again, I had to be put on kidney dialysis.

“I have permanent nerve damage and a permanent brain injury… I have been able to continue everything I do daily, it’s just been a bit harder.

“I get a lot more tired than my peers, I experience speech difficulty sometimes when I’m tired, cognitive fatigue… I do have troubles with speed of processing.”

When Sophie finally returned to school she was still recovering, and was unable to spend full days in class or interact with her peers like she used too.

“It was hard for me to relate to my peers sometimes. No one should have to know what a stroke is at 15,” she said.

Sophie wants to study Midwifery or Health Science.

She has been inspired by those who helped her during the most challenging moments of her young life, and wants to do the same for others.

“I would love to work regionally for a while, just to give back something to the community I was raised in. Regional areas are in need of more healthcare workers,” she said.

Her advice for next year’s Year 12 students is to choose subjects they are passionate about.

“Do the subjects you love and have a passion in… if you really love a subject you’re going to put more effort into that subject, therefore you’re going to do better and your VCE experience is going to be so much better.”


Trafalgar High School

Trafalgar High School: Ellie de van
der Schueren was awarded dux with an ATAR of 97.9. photograph supplied

TRAFALGAR High School’s dux of 2021 is Ellie de van der Schueren with an ATAR of 97.9.

“I had woken up about 10 minutes before 7am, I was just so excited and so nervous for the results,” she said.

She woke her Mum up and they both sat in front of the computer waiting for the result to be released – when it finally happened they were both extremely excited.

There was a lot riding on Ellie’s end of year results.

In Year 10 she earned a place in the Melbourne University’s Kwong Lee Dow Young Scholars Program, which guarantees students in the program who score over 90 on their ATAR a place in an undergraduate degree.

Ellie was also accepted into Melbourne University’s Hansen Scholarship early in 2021, which helps students with their living expenses throughout university.

Ellie’s plans for 2022 are to pursue a Bachelor of Arts at Melbourne University, with a major in Psychology.

She intends only following a pathway that will lead her to become a clinic psychologist.

“I picked it up as early access in Year 10, and the subject was just so fascinating… I know that you can go into so many pathways and help so many people.”

“Being in a regional area, I’ve definitely noticed the lack of psychologists around, and I think that it is a real injustice that there are so many people who are struggling and we don’t have enough people to support them.”


Gippsland Grammar

Gippsland Grammar: Principal
Leisa Harper and student Demi
Edward, who was awarded dux with
an ATAR of 99.2. photograph supplied

DEMI Edward was awarded dux of Gippsland Grammar, with an ATAR of 99.2.

A Traralgon local, Demi only moved to Australia from the UK in 2018. She said she found Gippsland Grammar a very supportive environment.

“Everyone here was really friendly, so it wasn’t as daunting as it seemed,” she said.

When Demi discovered her high ATAR score she was in disbelief.

“I just opened it in my room, and I went through and told my parents,” she said.

“Mum was jumping up and down, she’s over the moon.

“I definitely was not expecting in the 99s at all, that was a lovely surprise.”

In 2022, Demi wants to study Medicine at Monash University, and is keeping an open mind about what she would like to specialise in.

“I’m leaning towards surgery at the moment, but I’m also just going to go with an open mind, find what I’m passionate about and pursue that,” she said.

Gippsland Grammar principal Leisa Harper expressed her happiness for Demi and the class of 2021.

“Our students continue to excel even when their resilience and determination have been tested,” she said.

“There are many compelling stories of success from a dux who achieved a well-deserved 99.2 to 21 per cent of our students scoring above 90 and 94 per cent of our students with an ATAR above 50.”


Lowanna College

Lowanna College: Lowanna
College principal Adam Hogan
with Elizabeth Heyblom, who was
awarded dux with an ATAR of 89.05. photograph alyssa fritzlaff

LOWANNA College’s dux of 2021 is Elizabeth Heyblom with an ATAR of 89.05.

The Erica local was very pleased with her end of year results.

“It was a really nice surprise,” she said.

“My family is very very proud, I think they’re even more happy than I am.”

Elizabeth’s highest raw score was 41 in Further Maths.

“My favourite subject was definitely Maths… I found myself studying for that more than others because I just liked doing practice exams,” she said.

While Elizabeth said the pandemic was challenging, there were some benefits.

“A benefit of online learning, especially doing it in Year 11, is that it set me up to have better study skills at home,” she said.

In 2022, Elizabeth wants to study Criminology and Psychology at RMIT.

“When I was little I always wanted to be a police officer… but I’m leaning towards social work. Maybe something in the youth justice field.”

“I currently work with kids, and I think that that is something I would want to do for a career.”

Elizabeth said that the most important thing at the end of Year 12 is to be able to look back and be proud of yourself.

“Try your hardest, not necessarily for your ATAR, but so that you can look back and be proud of yourself… it’s worth it – to try – so you can look back and be happy,” she said.

Lowanna College’s principal Adam Hogan said the school was very proud of what this year’s Year 12s had achieved, especially given the challenges of the last two years.

“Our students this year have done us proud, particularly given the challenges our students have faced over two years of VCE,” he said.

“We are very proud of Elizabeth, who is admired by her teachers and highly respected by her peers; a very deserving dux for 2021.”

St Paul’s Anglican Grammar School

St Paul’s Anglican Grammar
School: Annabelle Rajasingham
was awarded dux with an ATAR
of 98.8, pictured with principal
Cameron Herbert. photograph supplied

ANNABELLE Rajasingham was awarded dux of St Paul’s Anglican Grammar School with an ATAR of 98.8.

The daughter of a Moe GP, Annabelle also has her sights set on a career in medicine.

She woke up on Thursday morning to what she described as a big surprise.

“I was really surprised, and my family were really happy,” she said.

Her highest study score was a 48 in Biology, which she completed through early access in Year 11. Annabelle plans to study Medicine at Monash University.

“Being able to see my Dad, working in a rural setting… you get to know people, watch children grow up – which I think would be really rewarding. Also, how the body works, and how diseases work is something that really fascinates me,” she said.

Her advice to future Year 12s is to make sure they enjoy their final year of schooling.

“Give it your best, it’s a hard year – but make the most of it. Year 12 is one of the most enjoyable years at school,” she said.