Upon review of the existing landscape for Mater Dei School students by then-CEO/Principal, Tony Fitzgerald, it was apparent that many Mater Dei School graduates had limited opportunities for ongoing learning or engagement in purposeful activities following graduation. It was evident that young adults requiring high support, more time and greater repetition to continue building skills were also those that had the least opportunities to do so. It is through this identified ‘gap’ that NextPath was born.

In 2018, a period of six months was spent engaging in research and scoping possibilities. The purpose of this was to understand the existing international evidence relating to post-school education for people with disability and the research in self-determination. A small qualitative research project was also conducted with key stakeholders to gain a local perspective.

In January 2019, after a significant and thorough research and development phase, the NextPath program was launched, founded by CEO/Principal Tony Fitzgerald and under the leadership of Tennille Bertram, the Founding Director of NextPath. Originally known as Work & Community Pathways, or ‘Pathways’, the first group to commence in the new Pathways program consisted of six Mater Dei School graduates, utilising an unused classroom at Mater Dei School, which became known as the Launchpad.

In establishing the Work & Community Pathways program, four key priorities were considered:

  1. Language - The language used within the program was carefully considered and specifically chosen, with language that is reflective of a tertiary education opportunity, rather than an extension of higher schooling.
  2. Staffing - The program was initially staffed with four casual Assistant Goal Facilitators (AGFs) with program Director, Tennille Bertram, doubling as the first Goal Facilitator (GF). Within a few months of commencing the program a dedicated Goal Facilitator was employed as well as an Administrator.
  3. Authenticating Values – a set of initial values established prior to the launch of the program; these values set the framework which still guides all NextPath Continuous Learning staff and Young Adults today.
  4. Curriculum - the Life Centred Education curriculum was chosen and used at the commencement of the program, accompanied by community learning experiences, such as work experience, and other learnings that occurred within the community environment.

The number of young adults enrolled in the program grew quickly, doubling throughout the first year. This enabled the program to expand to five days from the original three days per week. With the continued growth in 2019, an additional site was required, and in January 2020 the NextPath Launchpad at Narellan Town Centre took off.

In 2020, as both the Pathways program and revised Mater Dei Early Intervention Program (MDEIP) continued to grow, both programs were aligned together under the ‘NextPath’ umbrella. MDEIP became NextPath Assessment & Therapy, and the Pathways programs became known as NextPath Continuous Learning. To ensure the potential of NextPath Continuous Learning could be realised, Alycia O’Neill was appointed as Program Manager in 2021, who’s hard work has seen considerable growth in the program since.

From those humble beginnings and a first Pathways group of six Mater Dei School graduates, NextPath Continuous Learning now supports over 60 Young Adults in helping them achieve their goals.