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NFP Opens School for Disengaged Young People

17 March 2017 at 9:45 am
Ellie Cooper
Melbourne City Mission has opened an innovative school to re-engage school leavers and support young people who face barriers to education, including those experiencing homelessness.

Ellie Cooper | 17 March 2017 at 9:45 am


NFP Opens School for Disengaged Young People
17 March 2017 at 9:45 am

Melbourne City Mission has opened an innovative school to re-engage school leavers and support young people who face barriers to education, including those experiencing homelessness.

The Hester Hornbrook Academy was officially launched on Wednesday by Deputy Premier of Victoria and Minister for Education James Merlino.

It was set up to tackle the issue of 10,000 young people leaving secondary school each year without a Year 12 qualification.

The academy’s student body includes young parents, young people experiencing homelessness, those who have been in the care system and those who have experienced other types of trauma.

People aged 15 to 25 can enrol for years 10, 11 and 12 to complete their Victorian Certificate of Applied Learning.

Dave Wells, the academy’s principal, told Pro Bono News the independent school had a flexible learning environment and a high-support model.

“It works on a model of a teacher and a youth worker in a classroom with 20 young people,” Wells said.

“And the teacher and the youth worker help young people re-engage back into education through developing an environment and a context that young people want to be in, and delivering a curriculum that young people want to engage with, so starting with a young person’s interests, an individual’s interests and building a personalised curriculum around that.

“The youth worker’s role in the space is really to work with the young person on other barriers to education, other barriers to engaging, whether it be housing, drug and alcohol, family issues, whatever’s going on in their lives, the youth worker will work with them on that through the education process.

“So we set up a space where young people don’t have to have everything sorted out prior to engaging in education.”

Mitch is a current student at the academy. He said he was in a “bad place” before he started.

“I was involved with drugs and crime. I didn’t have stable housing,” Mitch told Pro Bono News.

“Then one day I got picked up by the police, all my stuff came back onto me which I’d done previously, I got court ordered to get back into education because I previously wasn’t engaged with education for three-and-a-half years.”

He said the academy’s set-up helped him re-engage with education.

“When I come to school it doesn’t feel like I’m engaging in education, it feels like I’m engaging with another family, like a family away from home. It’s just a good experience,” he said.

“It feels like they care about my learning and what I want to engage with. Nothing that they put in front of me is [something I wouldn’t] put myself in front of.”

Now he has plans for his future after he completes Year 12.

“I want to help young people like myself, disadvantaged young people, engage back into education or something that leaves them doing something,” he said.

Wells said supporting students to finish high school was essential.  

“There’s so many kids dropping out of school… and we know at the extreme edge of those young people dropping out they struggle to ever re-engage and ever get back into education, they struggle to get a year 12 equivalent,” he said.

“And if you don’t have a year 12 equivalent, you’ll struggle to really participate in our communities and in our environment as an employee, as a contributing citizen.”

He said the academy was already producing positive results.

“We’ve seen kids who have pathwayed on into Tafe and university, kids who have gone into traineeships, apprenticeships, into employment, and kids who have really re-engaged with education and sorted out their personal lives along the way, sorted out what’s been going on for them, become passionate and engaged and contributing to a community,” he said.

“I think that’s the most important part. They’ll talk to that themselves, that connection to a community and a group of students and colleagues and friends, that can then grow into a connection to a wider community.”

Chantelle started at the academy in 2014 when she was pregnant.

“I was 15 so I’d just moved to Melbourne and I couldn’t find a school to actually take me while I was pregnant and to suit my needs with that, and with having my son,” Chantelle told Pro Bono News.

“Here I was able to bring him with me and continue while I was pregnant and everything.”

She said the academy’s support helped her graduate from Year 12 last year.

“It was really welcoming, I gained a lot of confidence during my time here, I was given the assistance just to get further education from the academy and also the opportunity to come back to the academy if I needed help with anything that I was struggling with,” she said.

“It was a really good experience, I’d do it again, I wish I could come back.”

She’s now at university studying a diploma of nursing.

“Before graduation I was applying to unis and given lots of support and guidance on how to do that,” she said.

Wells said while there were similar initiatives in Australia, the academy’s model was “unique with the intensity of the teacher and the youthworker presence in the space”.

“We strongly recognise the role a relationship and an environment and a context plays in the education journey,” he said.

“Kids won’t learn unless they have a relationship with the educators and the support workers.”

Wells said the academy’s model should be adapted for other schools in order to support more disadvantaged and disengaged students.

He said at the launch his staff shared stories of visiting other schools to learn what’s happening in a mainstream education setting.

“[When] people from those settings hear about the role that the youthworker plays, the constant request is: ‘Why can’t we have that in our classrooms? Why can’t we have that level of support in our classroom context?’

“I think that a stronger integration between mainstream education and community service organisations is desperately needed in our schools.

“Our schools, and through no fault of their own, struggle to be equipped to really provide the social supports that many students need to re-engage with education.

“And then if they had a partnership with a strong community services agency who has the professional skillset to do that, I think it would go a long way to stopping kids from dropping out of education.”

Ellie Cooper  |  Journalist  |  @ProBonoNews

Ellie Cooper is a journalist covering the social sector.

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