This article aims to theorise a storyline account of a collaborative three-year action research project into schooling re-engagement using a Bourdieusian framework. In the article we discuss how we (two teachers and a social worker) developed an alternative senior secondary school that re-engaged a sizable minority of marginalised young people back into formalised learning and consider how this school became a significant and sustainable educational alternative. Our work during this developmental period drew us into community-based activism enacting socially just curricular and pedagogical experiments. Through networked political action for schooling justice in concert with critical friends (our university partners), the marginalised young people we worked with and supportive regional youth stakeholders, we reconstructed our professional habitus as professionals into a more enabling rendering and strived to proffer through our relational, pedagogical and curricular work with students more of a transformative habitus. Our curricular and activist work inside the community extended the field of schooling relations into a more socially just orientation. This more enabling community field merged with our schooling field and enabled us to source political capital engendering secure, recurrent school funding and a purpose-built schooling facility. We claim that the market logics of schooling significantly influenced our beginning enrolment growth trajectory, and discuss how these logics compromised our ability to break through Bourdieu’s notion of the ‘destiny effect’. Since its inception in 2003, the Second Chance Community College has offered a comprehensive senior secondary schooling programme for more than 1000 young people. Throughout its 12-year history, the majority of students have gone on to secure work, apprenticeships and tertiary study but only 10% of students have successfully completed their final year of schooling.