“They really encouraged me to finish school and go on and do a music degree and keep doing a teaching degree,” she says.

“Now, I’m really motivated because I just want to give back to the students of this community, the support that I received.”

Poletti began working at Mary MacKillop College two years ago, and since then has worked hard to make her mark on the school’s performing arts and music curriculum.

“…when I came here, I just had three VCE music students to teach [and] the music department didn’t have a lot of students in it.

“… because we live in a small town I knew a lot of the kids, so I knew that there were a lot of talented students at the school that just weren’t coming forward to put their hand up to say … ‘I can do this’.”

Poletti quickly set about making some changes – in her words, “just injecting some enthusiasm back into the school around performing arts”.

Fast forward two years, and now students from Year 7 through to 12 are pursuing their musical passions, including 15 VCE Music students.

Opportunities abound, including award-winning musical productions.

“The year before [last] we did the production Blood Brothers [and] the school won a Victorian Guild award for it, so it was the best school production in the state.

“One of the students in that also won a Guild award for a junior role.”

Keen to get her students out into the community, Poletti hit upon an idea for a project with a “feel-good vibe to it”: taking the school choir to perform at elderly homes.

This in turn led to the production of a Christmas CD, using the school’s recording studio, which was given to all staff members for Christmas.

Eventually, she hopes to be able to produce a CD for each year level.

On top of this, Poletti runs a community arts and event management class, and leads her students in collaborating with their counterparts at the local special school.

Coming from a small, sporting-mad community, she says she needed to challenge the notion that the performing arts aren’t as important as playing a sport.

“It requires the same amount of effort and practice,” she explains.

“We used to have a big performing arts scene here at Leongatha … but over time … not as many people were interested anymore, and the music programs are getting smaller and smaller.”

She has just finished running a music camp in Leongatha called Camp Bravo, for which she was awarded a $15,000 grant from Regional Arts Victoria.

The camp involved all of the schools in Leongatha coming together to play music and students being tutored by professional musicians.

At the end of the camp, the students put on a concert, showcasing their talents.

The camp was so successful, local schools have asked Poletti to do it all again – a project she has duly thrown herself into.

Poletti explains that her focus is on giving her students experiences that might help them in future – but whether they pursue a career in music or not, she is just happy that the kids are enjoying the opportunities she provides.

Recalling her own schooling years, the unsung hero says she is thankful for the impact of her own teachers.

“I’m very thankful because if I didn’t have that support, I probably wouldn’t be a teacher right now – who knows where I would be!”

As part of her Unsung Heroes award, Poletti's prize is a superb Musica Viva in Schools program, valued at $1350.

The program includes an interactive live music performance at Poletti’s school by some of Australia's best musicians, teaching resources – including up to 10 weeks’ worth of lesson plans – and training delivered on an easy-to-use online platform.

Click here for more information about Musica Viva in Schools.