Former school truant who found a passion for teaching is nominated for award

Asia Mooney.
Asia Mooney.

A teenager who has missed years of schooling and ridden an emotional roller coaster has found a passion for teaching - leading her to be nominated for an award.

Asia Mooney, 17, is now “very motivated” and has “a passion for work” say teachers.

The teenager discovered her passion through helping youngsters with their own special needs, volunteering time to help kids with autism, and she now plans a career in education.

Asia is now an entrant in Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue Young People of the Year competition, the seventh time that a YOPEY contest has been held in the county to reveal, recognise, and reward positive role models who go the extra mile to help others.

She has a chance to win from a pot of £2,000 of prize money which will also be shared with the community.

Asia, from Clapham, has had difficulty with her own education for years. Aged just five her mother Linda was diagnosed with breast cancer and not long afterwards her mother’s partner was in a motorbike accident which left him paralysed from the neck down, so Asia and her mum became carers and Asia’s primary school education was affected.

Later her mum’s partner excluded Linda and Asia from the house. They were homeless for a time before moving in with a relative. Again, Asia’s education suffered as she looked after her mum who was upset about their situation.

Linda then had serious mental health problems, suffering depression and bipolar disorder with Asia missing more time off school to look after her.

In total Asia has missed about four years’ schooling.

Asia says that throughout her school life she has had difficulty making friends and at one time was bullied by other girls at school. She has weekly counselling sessions to help her and is on anti-depressants.

She said that school had definitely been a tough time, though most teachers had been helpful.

Asia said: “Ironically, despite my problems I want to be a teacher so that I can help youngsters, who may have had problems like myself.”

The breakthrough came when Linda started a job a year ago as a learning support assistant at St John’s Special School, in Kempston.

Asia had the opportunity of spending one day in a teacher’s class of children aged 9-11 with autism.

Asia said: “I was hooked. I absolutely fell in love with it.”

After completing her GCSEs, Asia went one day each week, helping autistic children aged 9-11.

She added: “I got to know their individual needs”, adding that she helped them with everyday tasks, including eating and sensory issues.

Asia said: “None of the children spoke so I had to learn how to communicate with them using sign language and pictures.

“I love it. It opened an entire pathway and I realised that I could happily do that as a career.”

Now in the sixth form at Sharnbrook Upper School, Asia has more free time and spends up to four half-days each week at St John’s Special School where she helps with swimming and other lessons, including speech, sums and writing for 10 to 11-year-olds.

She has plans to study to degree level in dealing with autism and then teach children with special needs.

Asia added: “I’m very keen on this career. I feel it is what I was born to do.” she is studying a level one course in sign language, adding “I appreciate what difficulty these kids with special needs are going through.”

Asia is studying, sociology, health and social care at A-level in her bid to become a teacher.

Denise Laslett, head of health and social care at Sharnbrook, said: “Asia is very motivated and the work that she has provided so far is of a very high standard.

“She is committed to volunteering at St John’s which is challenging, but she is dedicated and very caring with the kids. She is more concerned about them than herself.”

Denise added that Asia had grown in confidence through volunteering which is in contrast to her past problems.

She said: “She is a different person to the one who missed school. She is focused and making up for lost time.”

Hannah Aboukshem, a teacher at St John’s, said: “Asia has spent a substantial amount of time helping out in my class in seniors with pupils aged 10-12. She has spent all her spare time at St Johns, thus allowing her to build strong relationships with a variety of pupils within this class.

“Asia is flexible in her work and able to work with a variety of pupils in a variety of settings, such as swimming, academic structured lessons, school trips and lunch times. She has also been working closely with the class team and builds great relationships with team members and myself.

“Asia has a trusting and mature nature about her allowing me to give her responsibilities similar to what I may give my class staff. She has built a particularly strong relationship with one pupil in my class; this pupil will regularly ask for Asia and has a trusting and settled relationship with her.

“It is clear that Asia has a passion for the work she does here at St Johns, the pupils best interests are always at heart, she celebrates and records pupils’ achievements and manages pupils’ emotions in a professional manner.”

YOPEY was founded by former national newspaper journalist Tony Gearing, who said: “Asia is a great example of someone who has had serious setbacks in her young life, yet is determined to work hard to make up for lost time and is volunteering time positively to help youngsters.”

YOPEY is backed by the leaders of the three main political parties in Britain.

The winner will receive a prize of £800 ­ half for themselves and half for a good cause­ out of a total pot of £2,000. There will be other prize similarly split.

As well as Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue Service this competition is sponsored by Central Bedfordshire Council, Atlas Converting Equipment of Kempston, Movianto of Bedford, William Jackson Food Group which includes Perripak in Chicksands and Carlisle Managed Solutions.

Do you know somebody who deserves the title Young Person of the Year in Bedfordshire? To nominate visit or write, enclosing an SAE, to YOPEY, Woodfarm Cottage, Bury Road, Stradishall, Newmarket CB8 8YN for a paper entry form. Entries close on Thursday, February 27.