Featured Grants

Program Area B: Children at Risk

Featured Grant: Eastbourne Primary School

Ready to learn
$60,000 over two years

It takes a village to raise a child and this saying is being put into practice very effectively for the children and families of Rosebud West on the Mornington Peninsula, using an evidence-based approach to early childhood learning.

As part of a community renewal project in Rosebud West – now Capel Sound – a commissioned report found the area was within the band of highest disadvantage across the state with some of the factors being single parent families, low educational attainment and a lack of infrastructure and employment opportunities.

Eastbourne Primary School Principal, Stephen Wilkinson, and his colleagues at Seawinds Childcare Centre and Rosebud Kindergarten were also experiencing the outcomes of some of these issues; children arriving at preschool and school without the skills to successfully learn.

Educational research identifies the fundamental importance of learning in children’s first years of life, and that children who start school (and kindergarten) with developmental delays are at significant risk of underachievement in school.

“There is some correlation for kids in low socioeconomic households who don’t experience books being read to them; their oral language doesn’t develop as well before school, so they are not coming to school with the basic preparation. They have a lower number of words,” Stephen said.

“We had noticed for many years we had no influence over the children who were arriving at school under prepared for their prep year.”

Breaking the cycle of intergenerational poverty

Armed with this knowledge, Stephen was determined to see if his community could take action in an attempt to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty.

The aim of the Rosebud West Children’s Early Years Literacy Project was to improve the long-term educational outcomes and wellbeing of children living in the area. It was developed as a collaboration between Eastbourne Primary School, Seawinds Community Hub, Rosebud Literacy Village and the Mornington Peninsula Shire.

Using the evidence-based Abecedarian approach to learning, the focus was on building the capacity of educators, parents, carers, volunteers and service providers to understand the developmental needs of young children and to provide an appropriate learning environment for children to gain the skills they need for future learning; to arrive at school ready to learn.

To see the Seawinds Kindergarten and Early Learning Centre in action is to gain a small insight into how the program works. It’s about a more structured approach to the everyday – reading, caregiving, play, language, asking children to describe what they are seeing and doing and focusing on the interactions between children and the people around them.

Stephen says “the preschool staff had to realign their teaching practices but after seeing the results in a short time, realised how great the program was for their children. They were also assessing children which was something they’d never done on such a consistent scale.

“School teachers did the course with the preschool staff but were doing many of the requirements within the program already; conversational reading and language games. The school also had a parent engagement officer and a wellbeing program to assist parents. We also changed some teaching strategies to accommodate the program.

The community working together

“Teachers, parents, carers, volunteers and other service providers are all working together to create this environment,” Stephen said.

“Influencing parents in an early intervention sense is paramount to making this program even more successful.

“Evaluation using the Ages and Stages Questionnaire has enabled teachers to see each child’s development along elements such as gross motor, fine motor, communication, problem solving and personal/social development.

“The high number of volunteers allowing one-on-one support and interactions with each child is the most important activity in the ‘school readiness’ of children,” Stephen said.

With over 300 children aged between six months and five years engaging with the project over the past three years, the work has also been externally recognised, with the Seawinds Kindergarten and Early Learning Centre named State Winner for 2017 for Early Childhood Service of the Year.

The R E Ross Trust supported the initial training of 34 community groups including teachers, preschool staff, and child and maternal health personnel, as well as providing resourcing to employ a coordinator for the program and play group leaders.

“The resourcing we’ve been able to bring together from a range of funders and different parts of the community has made an enormous difference.

“It makes me smile when we get data that shows our vulnerabilities decreasing and that kids are coming ready for school – they have greater maturity, emotional and social readiness and ability to cope with big changes.

“When we started this, naturally there were some doubts and doubters but now everyone has embraced it. It’s about the whole community not just the school. We see it as an education precinct.

“Knowing the program is research based and has had unbelievable results in the United States, it is great to see other communities embracing it now too.”

Visit the Eastbourne Primary School and Seawinds Kindergarten and Early Learning Centre websites.

Featured Grant: Clontarf Foundation

Relationships supporting school retention
$90,000 over three years

A diverse and engaging program for students has resulted in an increase in Year 12 completion rates, consistently higher school attendance, and a clear preference for teenage Indigenous boys  voluntarily joining the Clontarf Academy program at Robinvale ahead of other school options.

It is the relationships with strong male mentors, which is the key to the success of the Clontarf Academy program across Australia, according to Victorian Regional Manager, Charlie Shannon.

The program targets at-risk teenage Aboriginal male students who may otherwise have very low school attendance and provides them with an education and life skills program designed to ensure they complete Year 12 and obtain meaningful employment.

Identifying strong male mentors

Having spent over 13 years with Clontarf in WA, the Northern Territory and now Victoria, Charlie says “we work hard to identify strong male mentors. These people are involved in the boys’ lives for long periods – we do everything to keep the boys on track from school pick-ups, breakfast, sports training, after school programs, camps… so it’s important that we get the right people.”

In Robinvale, the program involves two full-time, locally-based Clontarf staff mentors – Leon Johnson and Travis Bussell – who counsel the school’s 29 Aboriginal students on a range of behavioural, lifestyle and academic issues through a relationship-based program designed to engage and retain them in the education system.

When you read about the program, it’s enough to make you want to go back to school. Community participation is a strong component with Meals on Wheels, Clean Up Australia Day, the schools gardening program and the highly anticipated parents and community football game. High on the list of priorities are the health activities, which include cooking classes, mental health checks and Indigenous conflict resolution training, as well as camps, sport, employment – site visits to local employers – and work experience in the local community and further afield.

The family-like support both during and after school is crucial to the Academy’s success and one man knows this better than most from both sides of the fence. Using his own experience as the only Indigenous male to complete Year 12 at Robinvale College in a decade, Clontarf Academy Director, Leon Johnson, has a unique perspective with which to guide his young charges.

Bringing a unique perspective

Leon was  the first in his family to finish Year 12. He set a trend with his sisters and brothers and now he is passing it on to his students.

“It is so positive to see the boys doing the same thing and making that (finishing Year 12) their goal too.

“I can relate to them; we’re living in the same town, dealing with the same issues whether that’s to do with family or school.

“Year 9 and 10 are the high-risk ages. My friends left at Year 10 – there were a range of reasons from family, dropping out or wanting to get a job early – but I made it a goal to finish Year 12.

“These days there is a lot more support. There are more extracurricular activities, more help with health and employment.

“When I was at school there were Koori Education Support officers. They definitely helped me but I had to depend on building my own teacher and pupil relationships.”

R E Ross Trust funding over three years to the Clontarf program at Robinvale P-12 College is generating results that speak for themselves.

Since the Robinvale Clontarf Academy commenced in February 2010:

  • student enrolments have grown from 17 students to 28 students
  • average school attendance has been 79 per cent (and likely to rise with the help of a new targeted program)
  • 14 Clontarf students have completed their Year 12 schooling (inclusive of 2017).

The welcoming and supportive program is also about creating confident young men who can look you in the eye and shake your hand, ready to take on the world.

Lifetime impact of school completion

Behind Clontarf’s mission sits the compelling story for Indigenous students in terms of the lifetime impact of successful school completion. The benefits to individuals, families and the broader Australian community of young Indigenous males completing school cannot be overstated.

An independent study has demonstrated that the work of the Clontarf Foundation does reduce the impacts on Australian society in terms of the health and justice systems, where unfortunately Indigenous men are over represented.

The report, from ACIL Allen Consulting shows on average, between the ages of 18 and 64, Clontarf males are 13 per cent more likely to be employed than non-Clontarf males.

Over his working lifetime, a male who has been to a school with a Clontarf Academy, will receive less in welfare payments, have less impact on the health and justice systems and pay more in income tax.

Charlie says “It is quite remarkable how school completion changes the outcomes on almost every measure… if an Indigenous young man completes year 12 and gets a job. If we can do something to help with that journey, it will be incredibly worthwhile.”

Another hallmark of the program seems to be the long-term relationships. “We have a strong alumni, we work hard to stay in touch and we always encourage the boys to come back. Our employment team seeks to support the boys wherever they need it. If you’re a Clontarf alumnus you can come back at any time and ask for help.

“You learn to be patient and compassionate (in this role) because change doesn’t happen overnight. You need to be pretty resilient; difficult, awful things can happen, and you know these boys pretty well, but that also means when things go well you get to celebrate the successes,” Charlie said.

Visit the Robinvale Clontarf Academy website.

Leon Johnson and Travis Bussell (right), after the Colour Run with a student from the Clontarf Academy at Robinvale

Featured Grant: Centre for Multicultural Youth

Success for hands-on approach to job placement
$30,000 over two years

A grant to fund evaluation of the Pathways to Opportunity program run by the Centre for Multicultural Youth, has helped refi ne their approach to finding job placements for young people and at the same time fill genuine skill shortages. It’s a result that moves beyond a charity model to one which is a win/win for employers and employees and could now be taken to scale.

Remember your first job interview? How nerve wracking was it to go in, be confident and sell yourself to a potential employer? Now imagine doing it in another country, culture and without English as your first language.

The Centre for Multicultural Youth (CMY) is working with 120 young people in the north and western suburbs of Melbourne, from diverse backgrounds, to link them with employers who have a genuine need for workers.

While the focus of the program (funded by the Lord Mayors Charitable Foundation, The William Buckland Foundation and others) is overcoming the systemic barriers which prevent young people from CALD backgrounds from obtaining jobs, it has evolved over time as the CMY team identified the real sticking points to success.

Following an evaluation of their pilot, funded by the R E Ross Trust, the focus shifted from apprenticeships and traineeships to securing direct employment opportunities for young people.

Program Leader, Jane Marx, says it’s some of the things we take for granted that her clients need most help with.

“It’s easy for us to say, ‘ok now you need to put your best foot forward’. If you’re born here, you understand the expectations and the fact that you may need to do it over and again – a job is not guaranteed.”

Confidence grows

Once they get that, she says, it’s great to see that one of the benefits of repeat interviews is the growing confidence of job seekers.

One of the key elements of the program is the intensive support from CMY and the mentors with weekly and fortnightly check-in points.

“Some of the things our mentors talk about are basic things such as showing up on time, understanding pay slips, banking and leave processes, through to overcoming the initial cultural differences like the concept of ‘selling yourself’.

“The other thing we changed after the first phase of the project was to ensure mentors had 3-5 years’ work experience in Australia. We are seeing a lot of refugees and migrants who are coming back to us to volunteer in this way and it feeds into the concept of ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’.

“It’s really beautiful when our young people understand the mentor is making sacrifices and giving their precious time to them. It’s a different relationship; its proven to be really effective and gives them a sense of direction that’s really needed.”

Over 80 per cent of participants in the Pathways program reported high levels of increased self-confidence and improved knowledge of employment pathways as a result of their participation in job-ready workshops and mentor support.

Results positive for employers and employees

If the results are good for employees, they are even better for employers, particularly those who have a shortage of skills and labor for jobs mainly in hospitality, retail and warehousing.

“We are tapping into genuine markets and the employers are saying to us, send us young people willing to work and learn.

“That fills one need for them, but then we are getting feedback from employers saying they didn’t realise how much existing staff would get out of the opportunity to mentor young people from diverse backgrounds.

“People speak about diversity and inclusion, but these people are seeing it in action and it has an impact beyond the immediate. You have a young person from Eritrea or South Sudan who is starry eyed and willing to work and grateful for the opportunity; that’s a nice energy to be around in the workplace. Large numbers of our employers are coming back.”

In fact, the evaluation showed over 90 per cent of the employers reported positive experiences with the young people they employed.

“I think we’ve moved beyond a model where employers are feeling like they are doing something good, to genuinely providing benefit for them, which means we can move to the next step and achieve scale,” Jane said.

Visit the Centre for Multicultural Youth website.