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Robinson Education Centre Inc

Robinson Education Centre devised a highly flexible and individualised program for eight young Aboriginal students with high truancy rates and severe social and interpersonal problems. Literacy and numeracy skills improved as a result of the project, which focussed on arts activities and hygiene. The students subsequently had the opportunity to attend introductory horticulture and agriculture workshops conducted by Murrumbidgee Agricultural College.

Background

High truancy rates and an increase in petrol sniffing among some Aboriginal young people in Broken Hill brought local organisations together to develop an educational project that would counteract the social and interpersonal issues associated with inhalant abuse. Many of these young people have minimal parental or guardian support.

The Robinson Education Centre, an Adult and Community Education Evening College with a HELP program, was approached by both the local high school Willyama and the Aboriginal Liaison Officer from the DET District Office. Both organisations wanted to develop a program for young Aboriginal truants. Most offenders were under age for the HELP program, yet needed help and encouragement to stay at school.

The three agencies devised a pilot project aimed at motivating the students to attend school regularly.

Project Objectives

The pilot was designed as a mentoring project for a small number of participants. The Centre originally intended to use horticultural activities and cultural pride as the "hooks" to stimulate an interest in learning. However, as the project evolved, the core activities became literacy and numeracy within an arts and hygiene context.

Project Activities

Activities needed to change every day to maintain the interest of the young people. Often the Centre abandoned planned activities because they would not have suited the mood of the group on the day. This flexible approach to content helped maintain attendance levels.

The course was held off campus in an old school building at the local primary school. The location was isolated from shops and transport, which meant that students could not leave as readily as they might have if the project had been more centrally located.

At first hygiene was the main focus of the project. Food was seen as an enticement and a meal in the morning had a calming effect on the students. Therefore breakfast was an important opening activity for the day and lunch was also provided. This helped counter the all-pervasive high sugar diets that appear to affect their behaviour.

The project was aimed at High School students but some primary school students became involved due to the location of the project.

During the initial phase of the project, attendance was very low until the Aboriginal Health Service started picking the students up from home and taking them to the course. This service did not last and attendance dropped again once it stopped.

Project Outcomes

Eight students completed the course. Two started at the beginning and continued through the 20 week program, three started in one month and finished in the following month, while three started and finished in the same month. This attendance pattern is typical for the target group.

The project succeeded in gaining some parental involvement and support. This was achieved by the teacher showing a personal interest in the students by acknowledging birthdays and following up on the student's wellbeing when absent. Parents often called in to observe what was happening and to assess the teaching.

The Deputy Principal of the high school said the literacy and numeracy levels of the students had greatly improved during the course, as had their self-esteem. One young woman's attitude improved so dramatically that she is now seen as a role model for other Aboriginal students.

School and Aboriginal community support for the HELP program increased as a result of the Strategic Pilot Project. Strong Aboriginal and community networks were developed and these have led to partnerships for new community initiatives.

To achieve the original aim of providing horticultural activities, personnel from Murrumbidgee Agricultural College (YANCO) continued to visit Broken Hill during 1999 to offer the Aboriginal students in the HELP program and the Strategic Pilot Project the opportunity to participate in small workshops based on introductory horticulture and agriculture modules. Students with good school attendance records had the opportunity to attend a one to two week session at the YANCO college.

Success Factors

The teacher set individual programs for each of the students. While this made her work more complex, it meant the students could work on activities which suited their moods and inclinations on any given day.

From an early stage, the Robinson Centre worked closely with a range of community and government agencies to develop the project. The interagency approach led to an holistic approach to assisting the target group.

The Strategic Pilot Project had access to the Centre's after-school facilities. This gave the students another semi-structured environment to work in and a greater range of services.

Possible Improvements

Securing permanent transport for participants would have alleviated problems with irregular attendance. In country towns, many young people do not like using public transport. Because they feel shy or awkward, they may prefer to forego an enjoyable activity if public transport is the only way they can get to a venue.

In future, the Centre would engage local Aboriginal people, where possible, as tutors, teachers or teaching assistants so that the students have suitable role models.

Teachers Aides working with this target group need additional professional development to help them deal with issues specific to the target group.

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