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Eastern Suburbs Regional Evening College Inc

Headstart provided creative opportunities for 50 at risk young people. Headstart linked youth health workshops with music and art programs and proved to be an effective means of providing marginalised young people with important information in ways relevant to the lifestyle of the target group. The creative environment led to a natural development of language, literacy and numeracy skills. Headstart also demonstrated the many advantages of interagency collaboration.

Background

Eastern Suburb's Regional Evening College (ESREC) has worked for a number of years with the Sydney City Mission's Creative Youth Initiatives Centre (CYI) as part of its HELP outreach strategy. Through its HELP program, ESREC funds tutors involved in the CYI's Sound of the Streets and Artworks initiatives to conduct programs aimed at improving young people's literacy skills.

Sound of the Streets and Artworks have a strong track record of achieving positive outcomes for disadvantaged young people. Music and art activities provide meaningful contexts in which young people can explore the issues most relevant to them. The HELP component gives them the opportunity to develop skills that can be transferred to either further training or employment.

However, both agencies believed there was scope for developing and extending the program to address health and personal development issues such as drugs and alcohol, sexuality and gender identification. Many disadvantaged young people resist exploring these issues in conventional settings, feeling alienated and uncomfortable in group workshops and individual counselling sessions.

Project Objectives

Headstart, the Strategic Pilot Project, aimed to enhance current activities by testing innovative outreach and bridging strategies to encourage at risk young people to undertake further education and training or to find employment.

The objective was to use arts based activities, such as creative writing, drama, music, video production and computers to improve the literacy and numeracy skills of participants.

Both ESREC and CYI also wanted to strengthen existing strategic alliances with other youth service organisations servicing a similar target group.

Project Activities

Headstart allowed the three-day Sounds of the Street and Artworks program to be offered five days a week for 20 weeks. This provided a more permanent point of contact for participants, and allowed staff to develop stronger relationships with the clients and promote an expanded range of activities.

Greater access to resources and additional time meant participants produced a range of professional art products and were able to experience what it is like to be a professional artist. By moving across a range of disciplines, students were able to develop different knowledge and skills.

Project Outcomes

Fifty young people took part in Headstart over a period of 20 weeks. The standard of the young people's work, the high retention rates and the changes in student behaviour were all positive outcomes of the project.

Headstart linked youth health workshops with creative expression and proved to be an effective means of providing the young people with important information about sexuality, safe sex, relationships, mental health, drug and alcohol, conflict resolution and dealing with feelings.

The information was presented in a narrative, consultative framework that proved to be most effective in engaging the target group. Participants expressed their enthusiasm for this mode of learning and in every case indicated that the information they had gained would, they felt, reduce risk behaviours and promote a safer and healthier lifestyle.

Some participants who, despite previous contact with HELP, had been unable to enter formal training or education, had the opportunity to develop their skills in a creative environment. Tutors believe that some of these will now enrol in further education and training courses and are better equipped to seek employment.

ESREC now offers a more integrated service and has widened its collaboration with other agencies, particularly in the area of health, literacy and personal development. The collaborative approach of the project produced a comprehensive and holistic program that yielded positive results for both participants and the agencies themselves.

Success Factors

The strategic integration of personal development activities into a general art, music and literacy curriculum contributed to the success of the project. Participants had access to a wide range of arts disciplines, in particular the popular area of performing arts.

Sydney City Mission's status as a Registered Training Organisation allowed easy access to the formal VET system, in particular, accredited courses in art and music, self-paced learning in computer skills and ESP Literacy

The high level of interagency collaboration also contributed to the success of the project.

Possible Improvements

Headstart worked exceptionally well and project staff feel the only changes they would make would be to introduce additional activities

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