Coalhurst High student headed to Milan to pursue modelling

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Norbert, Michaela and Kathy Wallocha look through photos of Michaela in modelling mode.

Teachers help her pursue her dream while maintaining her studies

A Grade 11 student from Coalhurst High School is about to embark on a two-month trip to Italy to pursue an international modelling career.

Michaela Wallocha, 16, had dreamed of being a fashion model as a little girl playing dress up, but she began working toward that reality after being approached by a representative of a modelling agency while shopping in a Calgary-area mall less than a year ago.

Parents Norbert and Kathy Wallocha say they were skeptical at first, but after researching the firm, they discovered a Calgary agency with 30 years of experience in the industry.

Since then, Michaela has taken part in a runway show and photo shoots in Calgary and Toronto, building her portfolio and demonstrating her work ethic. Her photo appears in a fashion spread in Branded, a Calgary magazine.

Now, on the advice of her management company, Images International Model Management, she’s leaving southern Alberta in nine days for Milan with two other young models. Michaela’s  hoping to land work with her five-foot-10-inch frame and love of being in front of a camera.

While she’s travelled extensively in North America with her family (Dad Norbert is a commercial pilot), this will be her first time to Europe, navigating a new city and culture on her own.

In addition to finding work as a model, Michaela says she intends to continue school work while in Milan. 

“The school has been so supportive,” Michaela says. “It’s been incredible.”

Math teacher Mike Barwegen, for example, has been meeting with Michaela regularly after school to help her with Math 20-1 so she can write the final exam before she leaves for Italy. Social Studies 20-1 teacher Mike Saad will be working with Michaela even while she is away. She’ll be learning about Italy’s history and art first hand as a focus of her course work. She’ll also earn credit in a Media course under the guidance of Vice-Principal Shannon Collier, by photographing her time in Italy. Photography is one of Michaela’s passions, fuelled by the Christmas gift of a DSLR camera kit from her parents.

Michaela also participates in the school’s drama productions, including Fire Damp: The Story for the Coalhurst Mine Disaster, which was performed to sellout audiences in Lethbridge in 2013, and more recently, Sleepy Hollow, performed as part of the school’s Fine Arts Night in December.

Collier says the school does whatever it can to support its students as they pursue their dreams, and the kind of flexibility and help for Michaela is just one example of that. While the effort might seem commonplace to Collier and the other teachers, it strikes Michaela and her parents as simply outstanding.

For Michaela, there’s both some trepidation about her trip to Europe and considerable excitement about trying to make inroads in the fashion industry there.

“Photo shoots just make me so happy when I’m in front of the camera,” she says.

 “It’s a typical girl thing. Dressing up, getting your hair done, it never gets old for me. It's so much fun.”

Mom Kathy says while she’s “terrified” about her teen making this trip on her own, she’s also confident in her daughter’s abilities and good sense.

“She’s a great kid,” Kathy says. “She’s made it easy to be a parent.”

Norbert says he and Kathy will travel to Italy for a week in February to check on Michaela and see some of the sights.

He says there’s so much Michaela can learn from this opportunity that there simply was no way he could stand in her way.

“It’s that sense of independence,” he says. “When you have to make day-to-day decisions on your own without the help of Mom and Dad, you mature.”