Not many kids get to start kindergarten with their own set of wheels, but Sarah Walker is no ordinary little girl.
The bright West Wollongong 4-year-old, who starts school at Lindsay Park Public next week, was born with a rare condition called children's interstitial lung disease, meaning she relies on an oxygen tank to help her breathe most of the time.
Along with the usual school arsenal of a backpack, pencil case and uniform, Sarah will have her new "oxy-buggy" by her side - a modified golf cart made by Maintech Engineering to transport her tank around school.
Her mum Susanna is thrilled to see her daughter joining her siblings at Lindsay Park, especially since the family was once told she may never make it out of hospital.
But like any mum sending their youngest child off to school, Mrs Walker is a little emotional about Sarah's first day of kindergarten.
"It's a very big milestone for us because we didn't think we'd get her out of hospital, let alone get her to big school, so we're just thrilled that she can just be like every other kid," she said.
"I was feeling very, very excited we had actually made it this far, but now that it's getting closer I'm feeling a bit sad and a little bit anxious."
Luckily, Sarah will have her adoring older sister Neve, 9, and brother Noah, 8 close by.
"We couldn't have done it without these two," Mrs Walker said.
"They are her best medicine."
She said Lindsay Park had made a big effort to welcome Sarah by building new ramps and accessible toilets around the school.
However, she said the family was still waiting to find out whether a support teacher would be available to help feed Sarah through a tube in her stomach several times a day.
Mrs Walker hopes her funny, energetic and fiercely independent daughter will have a big effect on her classmates and teachers.
"I hope she can teach them acceptance and tolerance, and that just because somebody has something wrong with them they are still a person first and foremost," she said. "Sarah needs oxygen the same way someone needs glasses, and she doesn't think she's any different."
Public education saves parents a pretty penny
Illawarra parents who send their children to private schools are likely to spend $200,000 more than those who educate their kids in the public system, a new survey has revealed.
Regional NSW figures from the Australian Scholarships Group’s (ASG) annual education cost index show children starting preschool in 2013 will cost their parents up to $244,006 if educated in private schools.
A regional Catholic school education will cost $123,967, while public schools will cost $44,060 from preschool to year 12.
The study of more than 14,000 children took into account fees, transport, uniforms, computers, excursions and sporting trips to determine the total cost of education.
Cost had risen at more than twice the rate of inflation in the past 10 years, ASG chief executive John Velegrinis said.
While the survey showed regional school costs were rising, they were more affordable than those in Sydney – the most expensive place in Australia to educate a child.
For kids starting preschool in Sydney this year, a private education is forecast to cost $427,645, the Catholic system will cost $180,416 and a public education costs $58,957.