Life At PACA - Students' Eye Views
We've asked a number of students, both past and present, to share with us their experiences of life at PACA. Here's what they said:
On completing her Year 11 at PACA Guowei Yang, moved on from the Academy with big aspirations for a career in the medical world, and told us how she felt her time and opportunities at the Academy helped this.
“I want to go to university to do a science degree, perhaps in chemical engineering. I want to help invent new medicines for new illnesses, or better medicines.” Her interest comes from watching programmes and seeing people who need help. “I think it is really nice to help people and I want to make the world a healthier place.”
Guowei felt that her opportunities and experiences at PACA helped her to challenge herself. “STEM has given me more opportunities to extend myself. I think that lessons were good but I needed to be extended more – and I think that competitions we could also take part in did that”.
Before her GCSEs Guowei took part in the Top of the Bench Chemistry Olympiad. As the oldest in a team of mixed ages, she had to help her team understand the topic given to them, before they took tests and were assessed by the judges. “The preparation before really helped me with my GCSE, because I was making sure I knew what I needed to. It was also good experience in leadership” says Guowei.
Guowei earned herself a place on a STEM summer residential at Imperial College London, where the application was akin to applying for university, providing more practice in writing personal statements.
Guowei feels that the Aldridge Attributes around learning have prepared her for life after PACA. “I was the sort of person who would get stuck and ask for help, but to cover the attributes I would problem-solve myself and that really helped me. Now if I get stuck on an everyday problem I feel confident to solve it myself, instead of always asking my parents for help.”
“I think that PACA really cares about their students and the opportunities that they give them. If students need help they will help them. If they need extending they will give them opportunities, so their potential is unlocked.”
Year 11 student Cameron McKechnie has high-flying hopes of becoming cabin crew to fulfill his love of travelling. He says: “Normally you only hear about fear of flying, but I love it!”
Cameron has embraced the Aldridge Attributes - the skills programme used at all Aldridge Academies to prepare young people for the productive lives they deserve to have – to help him prepare for his chosen career.
In his fourth year at PACA Cameron volunteered to take part in interviews for a Radio 4 programme reviewing the academy movement and its impact, which was part-recorded at PACA. Cameron said that this made him assess the Academy and what it could do for him.
“The Aldridge Attributes definitely help because they give you an insight into life after school. The attributes, and the school, will help me to get the grades that I need to get there, because it is grades that will get you further and to places.”
Already knowing people in the industry, Cameron is aware that it can be a tough career to break into, and doesn’t always last for life. So he is determined to complete GCSEs and A-Levels before applying for cabin crew qualifications.
“I’ve had my heart set on this career for a long time, but you need something to fall back onto.”
Cameron has been a St. John’s Cadet for 5 years, which has fostered his love of meeting and speaking with different people. “At school you interact with the same people but when I’m out on cadet duties you interact with such a wide variety of people. The Attributes help you prepare for that.”
Cameron has also seen the benefit of developing his enterprising skills when he took part in the Aldridge Foundation’s Elevate Summer School programme at University West of England. “You had to use all of your attributes. Having to put them into practice was really interesting. For example, teamwork; my team had lots of strong characters with strong differences of opinion so we really had to work together as a team to get through it. On the programme you are interacting and working with people you don’t know – although now they are my friends! We met so many people and had such fun as well as getting the project done. I didn’t want to leave.”
Ciara left the Academy this summer with aspirations for a future in STEM subjects, after enjoying many STEM opportunities presented to her in her time at the Academy.
Although Ciara believes she is a firm all-rounder when it comes to learning, she has had an interest in STEM subjects from a young age, growing up in a very science-orientated family, “I feel like I grew up in a science lab, as a science teacher my nan’s house had so many weird things in it!”
Ciara believes that the opportunities presented to her at PACA have encouraged this interest. She said: “I guess it was the teachers that made me love STEM”. Ciara’s risk-taking, enhanced through PACA’s focus on developing the Aldridge Attributes, paid off in her final year at the Academy when she was awarded positions on both of the summer STEM placements she applied for, at Cambridge and Imperial Universities.
Ciara credits part of her success for gaining a place on the placements to the support from her teachers, saying: “We had to write personal statements and my teacher would check them over and then ask her contacts to look over them too. Cambridge had over 2000 people apply and there were only 34 places. Of the 34 chosen, they said that in particular our personal statements were really strong.”
Ciara hopes to attend more placements, and even apply for a placement in America that was brought to her attention at Cambridge. After her time at Cambridge Ciara also has a new goal, to read Human Social and Political Sciences. She says, “I learnt about the course on the placement, it broadened my view, it is my goal to get onto that course!”
Ciara believes her leadership abilities helped her lead her team at one placement to win their challenge. Ciara acknowledges that her leadership qualities have been realised by working by the Aldridge Attributes. Also, having been Head Girl at PACA Ciara said: “I feel like it has set me up for life, because I can always reference it. It’s my foundation into being independent and being a leader. It sparks more confidence.”
Ciara is sure that PACA will continue to improve the confidence and skills of all the students, she said, “being a concentrated environment where you are given a lot of attention by teachers, I feel like it really brings out someone’s confidence, but it also helps those who already have that confidence to flourish even more. You feel special at PACA, a lot of attention is given to every student and I think without that no one would have the confidence to do these amazing things. I feel it is engrained in PACA now, that is just the way it works.”
“My time at PACA has been incredible with a great community, one I’ve been happy to contribute to during my time.”
Ciara achieved a stunning 8 grade 8s, 1 grade 7, one grade 6 and a Distinction in her GCSEs.
Brooke Lewis is a passionate member of PACA's Social Action Committee. The student-led committee was set up in 2013 to help encourage students to support local and global charities. It’s an integral and award-winning part of the Academy’s programme to develop students’ leadership and enterprise skills.
Brooke’s time at the Academy and on the Committee has developed her passion to help others, a key part of the Aldridge Attributes developed at PACA and by all of the Aldridge Academies.
To get onto the committee, students have to write a formal application explaining what they could bring to the group, and suggest charities to help. Brooke’s charity choice was sadly very close to her heart, “I fundraised for the charity that helped my sister, who was unfortunately so ill she passed away. That is why I love the committee. You not only get to help charities but you get to put your own suggestions of charities forward too”.
Over the last 5 years the Social Action Committee has raised funds for over 23 charities. The members of the committee also get the chance to attend a national celebratory event, WE day, where live music and inspirational speakers combine to help celebrate young people’s contributions to society, and inspire them into their next year of making change.
The students are asked to complete work around one of the Aldridge Attributes in order to gain one of the allocated tickets for the event, as well as writing a letter to explain why they think they deserve a place. But in the true supportive ethos of the committee, they are also asked to nominate someone else they think is deserving of a ticket.
Brooke has continued to reapply to the committee each year because she loves the opportunities it presents and how it has affected her determination in all aspects of her life in the Academy. She said “in Year 7 I got the Principal’s award once for the Social Committee, that really made me think I have to get my head down, because if I can do things like that there must be more that I can do.”
Brooke’s experience at WE Day, and hearing from popular artists who also work hard to support individuals and charities has inspired her to do the same. “I really want to act or sing, but I still want to help people while I am doing what I love’.
Former student Jamie Henville, has built on his experiences at PACA to start his own theatre company. Jamie recalls the school’s transition to PACA and questioning how the focus on entrepreneurial skills at the Academy was going to help him. He now says:
“As you go into later life, you call back on this and definitely the school’s focus on building and developing your entrepreneurial capabilities is something I relate back to frequently.”
After PACA 6, Jamie went on to study in BA (hons) Drama and Performance at the University of Portsmouth. Whilst studying, Jamie and two of his peers sought additional practical experience in theatre and set up a company, Brightside Comedy, to write and create their own performances.
Jamie’s passion for his work and creativity was nurtured at PACA through its focus on developing the Aldridge Attributes. “As soon as Portslade became an Aldridge school there was this sense of identity within those core attributes. We didn’t have that before. The attribute that still stands out for me is Passion; for the work that you are doing and creating.”
Jamie’s passion saw Brightside signing up for the 2019 Edinburgh Festival Fringe. His determination, another core Aldridge attribute, to find the right venue paid off when after many failed phone calls, he found himself pitching to a long-standing producer.
To raise funds for the Festival, Jamie and his colleague took advantage of an offer from a local engineering company to make on-hold call advertisements. The team also won the University of Portsmouth CCI Award, meaning they were granted £500 after pitching to the University about their Edinburgh project.
Brightside also raised money from ticket sales performing their debut show at The Portsmouth Guildhall. They built a good working relationship with the producer, and found themselves being offered the position of first Associate Artists at the Guildhall. This meant even more support for the young company, including not only the space to rehearse and perform, but guidance on marketing material or advice on any aspect.
Brightside do not take any of their support for granted and have set up their own partnership scheme to support other local artists and companies.
“We have had a lot of in kind support from other contacts, so we have set this partnership up to support talented individuals and companies that we can provide support for.”
To help subsidise Brightside’s growing ambitions for their performance work, entrepreneurial skills are being utilised again as the team set up a separate company, which will provide corporate performative solutions such as training videos or product videos; an idea grown from their existing part-time work with the local engineering company.
Reflecting on how his education at PACA has shaped his success, Jamie says: “We were given a platform to experiment and that’s vitally important, especially at that age. I didn’t know I could write, but having the freedom to create, particularly in GCSEs and PACA 6th Form, I found that I could and did enjoy writing. I can’t put the importance on that enough.”
Jamie appreciates his drama teacher investing time in the students as well as the studies. “He came in and he found us external opportunities. He is a good summary of what happened when Portslade became an Aldridge school; the opportunities were there as well as the teaching.”
Jamie is in discussions with former his teacher to return to PACA to deliver workshops to students. He says: “So there are still opportunities, well after I have left. There are always opportunities.”