Top performer Samuel Crock, of Xavier College, scored 48/50 in classical Greek. He believes ancient languages provide a solid foundation for modern-day grammar. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo
THIS year might have been the first time Brenda Prager taught the VCE subject laboratory skills but her students had something of an advantage - the Mill Park Secondary College teacher had previously been an engineer for 14 years.
Dr Prager is part of the Teach for Australia program, which recruits non-teaching graduates and professionals to work in disadvantaged schools for two years.
Her expertise paid off: Mill Park Secondary students Anushka Sharma and Joanna Anagnostou were the only students in the state to score above 40 in the subject, which is offered at nine schools.
''It definitely helped to have a teacher who had worked as an engineer - she had experience and she could pass it on to us,'' says year 11 student Joanna, who scored 43/50.
Her students didn't know it at the time, but many of the experiments Dr Prager assigned them had formed part of her research in her former life.
''I got them to look at how ink had spread on a paper. I did a lot of that when I was doing research at Monash University into printing inks and coating on paper.''
From left: Anushka Sharma, Dr Brenda Prager and Joanna Anagnostou. Photo: Michael Clayton-Jones
Dr Prager says laboratory skills, which she describes as a combination of chemistry and microbiology, was a fantastic VCE subject, which gives students a sense of what it is like to work in the industry.
It also assists with other subjects: Anushka, who scored 45/50 despite being still in year 10, says laboratory skills will help her with chemistry next year.
''My wish is to get into medicine and become a doctor,'' Anushka says.
Meanwhile, Xavier College student Samuel Crock was the only student in the state to score above 40 in the subject languages: classical Greek.
Xavier College and Balwyn High are the only two schools in Victoria to offer classical Greek, with 20 students enrolled at the VCE level this year.
''I guess it's a bit of a dead language - it doesn't lead to too many places. I chose it on a whim in year 9 - Latin is compulsory in year 7 and 8 for everyone at Xavier so I already had a grounding in ancient languages,'' said Samuel, who scored 48/50.
''I enjoyed it - it's a good mix of language, grammar and the culture and history of Ancient Greece which is really really interesting.''
Samuel, who did VCE Latin last year, said ancient languages provided a great grounding in the grammar of some modern languages.
''I also did French this year and it definitely helps - you can pick up general concepts and vocabulary and etymology.''
Northcote High graduate Behrooz Nikmani scored 97.95 in his ATAR after moving to Australia in 2010 from Iran. Behrooz scored above 40 in all his subjects with 42 his highest score for physics and chemistry.
He had learnt some English in Iran but it took time to adjust to the school routine in Australia.
''It was at first a bit isolating. It got better and I got used to it,'' he said.