Two Illawarra principals have been recognised for their work empowering disadvantaged students, with the duo each winning a national award from the Smith Family out of a pool of 2000 nominations across the country. Warilla North Public School relieving principal Rachel Armer and Bellambi Public School principal Alison Forthuber received the 'Powering Potential' award in Melbourne on Friday, December 1. Across the Illawarra, the charity runs support programs at 30 schools (like breakfast and homework clubs), which support 4600 students. The Smith Family staff attended schools and nominated educators for the National Excellence in Teaching Awards. Ms Armer and Mrs Forthuber will each receive a $10,000 professional development grant to further their career and to help their students. As Warilla North Public School relieving principal Rachel Armer walks through the playground, she's greeted by groups of students. It's part of her approach to be a visible authentic presence in the student's lives and not "tucked away in an office". "That makes all the difference, just being consistently there for the kids, just a regular person," Ms Armer said. "I give a little bit of my story and they give a bit back and you kind of build those foundations together." The school has 135 students but Ms Armer said they are "small but mighty". One of the top initiatives she helped pioneer was improving school attendance on Fridays by organising sports and special activities. It's a full-circle moment for Ms Armer, who went to Warilla North as a child with her two brothers. Her mum still lives in the area and attends school events. "It's a lovely little community and because we've always been entrenched in it, it's really nice to have that familiarity with the kids and with the families," she said. Growing up in the area has given her common ground with parents and the community. "They want them to come to school to be safe and be happy, and they want them to do better than what they've done," Ms Armer said. "That's what happens when you're a parent, you want more for your kids." To ensure the wellbeing and success of students at Bellambi Public School, principal Alison Forthuber's job stretches beyond the school gates. "My role is to ensure that this community here can rely and trust the school to support them and to support their kids," she said. The school focuses on both the student's academic success and emotional wellbeing. "Once we have those two things working in harmony with each other then we've got kids who are thriving," Mrs Forthuber said. Their wellbeing nurse has even helped families connect with health services and navigate the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). Mrs Forthuber said the school works closely with the Smith Family, who visit to connect families with services and provide scholarships to students. "[Students] stay after school and work with the Smith Family to get their homework done," she said. The charity also works with students in Year 6 to prepare them for high school. Mrs Forthuber strongly backs public schooling because "every child is entitled to a high-quality education". "It's our moral imperative ... as public school principals to ensure that there's that equity of access to make sure that our kids leave school literate, numerate and aspirational to go on and lead fulfilling lives," Mrs Forthuber said. Smith Family's General Manager for NSW Fiona Coluccio said they are thrilled to honour the Illawarra principals for their contribution to the community. "Supporting a child's education is the most effective way to help break the cycle of disadvantage," she said. Past winners of the award include Warrawong High School teacher Nisrine Hijazi, former Dapto High School Principal Andrew Fitzsimons and Albion Park Rail Public School Deputy Principal Romina Maione. National Excellence in Teaching Awards (NEiTA) Foundation Chairperson, Catherine O'Sullivan said both schools and the Illawarra communities "are richer and more successful because of Alison and Rachel's ability to transform young lives". "Alison and Rachel are both influential, caring and impactful educators and role models," she said.