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"I jumped in the air
I could see the sky
If I had wings
I think I could fly….."

Song lyrics written by student, Chris Hartwig.

Music, theatre and arts activities provided an excellent learning environment for 14 young school leavers in western NSW. Their self-esteem, self-confidence and motivation levels increased during the 10-week course. Individual learning programs were developed by a skilled facilitator with a strong background in the creative arts. Several participants subsequently returned to study and one found employment.


OCTEC, a community based organisation with its head office in Orange, provides services to a large section of rural NSW, including Broken Hill, Bourke, Brewarrina, Wagga Wagga and West Wyalong. OCTEC develops and manages services that help people improve their ability to seek, obtain and retain employment. The organisation's training and education branch runs HELP and Time Out programs for young disadvantaged people.

HELP program staff had noticed a drop in the level of student interest and attributed this to the generalised nature of literacy and numeracy activities on offer. They decided it would be worth experimenting with addressing literacy and numeracy needs in the context of what interested students, namely music, watching videos and playing video games.

Project Objectives

The Strategic Pilot Project was aimed at school leavers with higher literacy and numeracy levels than the average HELP student. The project's objectives were to:

  • provide access to and tuition in electronic music, video and audio equipment
  • provide an opportunity for the young people to express themselves through different mediums
  • improve self-esteem and self-confidence levels
  • encourage the young people to consider pursuing further study and work in arts-related areas.

Project Activities

The Strategic Pilot Project offered a ten-week course over the Christmas/New Year period, a time when services are closed and there are less opportunities for community activities. By running the course at this time, OCTEC hoped to motivate students to return to school in the new term.

The project covered basic aspects of music and songwriting including overdubbing and mixing, radio broadcasting, video production, theatre, painting, drawing and photography.

Individual programs were developed in line with the interests and talents of each client. Contrary to the trend in HELP programs run by OCTEC, most clients of the Strategic Pilot Project were young women. Access to the internet, reading scripts, timing scenes, reading instructions and setting up equipment provided unstructured learning opportunities.

Students visited local arts organisations, e.g. Orange Community Radio, the Orange Theatre Company, the Orange Regional Gallery, ABC Radio, Orange Civic Theatre and a local photographic studio. This gave them an opportunity to see what earning a living in the creative arts industry involves.

Project Outcomes

Each participant completed a major project in their chosen art form. Music was prepared and posted on the internet, short plays were produced, artworks created, videos made and CDs burnt.

Participants developed their creative skills, but the most dramatic results were seen in the area of self-esteem and self-confidence. As the project proceeded, the more timid participants engaged in direct eye contact, spoke more clearly and made more of an effort to project their voices, which was in stark contrast to their behaviour at the start of the project.

Fourteen students participated in the project, three of whom completed the course and received certificates. Of those, two enrolled in a HELP course and intend to continue their arts training by taking drama and singing courses. The third accessed the JOBNET Program. There were also positive results for some of the 11 who did not complete the course. One found employment, four left to undertake further study and one returned to school.

Motivation levels were high and many students achieved considerably more than they had anticipated. Participants helped each other with projects, were keen to put forward ideas, took part in preparation and planning, and showed respect for the work and opinions of others in the group.

As a result of the project, tutors now include arts-based activities in their mainstream HELP programs.

Success Factors

The project succeeded because it provided an alternative range of activities that enabled young people to explore their creative potential in new ways. It provided a fresh stimulus to staff, who had the opportunity to introduce new activities and equipment into the centre, and to expand community networks.

The skills, experience and patience of the facilitator with a strong background in the creative arts, also contributed to the success of the project.

Possible Improvements

Conducting the course over the festive period was not as successful as OCTEC had envisaged. Holiday activities and family commitments led to irregular attendance. In future, OCTEC would schedule such a project at a different time of the year.

Even though participants gained a comprehensive introduction to the creative arts, staff felt that the project was too long and will condense the course when it is run again.