Mr Heath Fitzgerald has overcome many barriers to get to where he is today.
Heath grew up as the second eldest in a household of five children. When he was just five years old, it became apparent that he needed to play a critical role as a primary carer for his younger siblings.
Heath is now a fourth-year Bachelor of Education (Early Childhood and Primary) student in the Charles Sturt School of Education. He feels he is a natural educator, which, he attributes to those early days of being thrown into a primary carer role at such a young age.
Heath’s father worked away throughout the week and his mother was without a driver’s license or car. This saw Heath spending a lot of time on the family farm in Dubbo, supervising his younger siblings and taking care of their daily needs.
It was during these days that Heath’s warmth and tenderness in relating to children became clear, which led to his future dream of one day becoming a school teacher.
“Living on the farm from age five to eleven with mostly just my mum and four siblings, and without a license or car among us, led to my family being my first and foremost social circle,” Heath said.
“As we eventually became a single-parent family, this strengthened the bond between my mother and us kids and my skills with children. This is because I would alternate between being the responsible and yet playful older brother, which often led to babysitting my siblings or other family friends’ children.”
When Heath was eleven, he moved with his family into a social housing estate that was known for rampant social issues such as drug and alcohol abuse.
While the circumstances and events that would unfold during these years were unsettling and chaotic, they defined the area Heath would later focus on with his educational studies.
“I am very appreciative of the five years I spent living in that estate as they influenced me to seek out work which could help address these social issues,” Heath said.
Despite the social issues Heath faced growing up in the Dubbo region, he developed a passion for wanting to help the community he knew he would always call home.
“I’ve only spent two years away from Dubbo when I attended another university,” Heath said.
“I moved back to Dubbo after becoming homesick, realising that this would be the place I could best make an impact through my teaching, being able to understand the contextual needs of students from that area.”
Heath also has three half-brothers whom he did not grow up with but is in contact with. His complicated family circumstances allowed him to develop an understanding of overlapping family structures which he knew would be beneficial to his teaching one day.
“I’m sure having grown up with these multiple family structures will help with my understanding of the issues and barriers to education which exist outside of academic content which also need to be considered when I am teaching,” he said.
Heath’s selfless and resilient nature earnt the respect of his peers and teachers in later years when he was elected for multiple leadership roles at school.
“I received the Dux award in Year six and leadership positions in high school including becoming School Captain in 2011 and 2012 of Delroy Campus. I was also nominated for the Western Region Student Representative Team and as a representative at the state SRC conference in 2011.”
Recognition of Heath’s exceptional character and drive did not stop there. In 2022 he was awarded a Charles Sturt CSU Give Scholarship and a Charles Sturt Reconnect to Study Scholarship.
Heath said he was in shock when he received these scholarships.
“The funding allows me to prepare myself for my course placements and my eventual teaching later this year by allowing me to pay for fees and purchase appropriate resources and textbooks,” Heath said.
CEO of the Charles Sturt Foundation Ms Sarah Ansell said, “Heath’s story is nothing short of inspiring.
“Not only did he overcome financial disadvantages to pursue a university education, but he did so with a smile, drawing on the skills and knowledge he has acquired during extremely challenging times.
“He is a shining example of who our scholarships are designed for,” Ms Ansell said.
Heath felt very enriched when he got his first taste of teaching others when he accepted a role as a student learning support officer (SLSO) in an afterschool and vacation care program.
“I found that I was not only helping students, but they were helping me as they gave me a larger purpose and a sense of responsibility that could easily have been lost which seemed to happen for others around me.”
Heath looks forward to the future, which may include teaching in a very remote school and possibly moving into leadership roles, teacher training or even curriculum and legislation design.
Heath would also like to engage with various ‘at risk’ organisations within his home community.
“Having grown up in a particular community gives you a special understanding of the challenges local children and youth face which allows me to better understand and support children through those challenges.”