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Keeping it real for disengaged students in the north

22 May 2023

As a child, Foxy was certain that high school would signal the end of her formal education.

However, her involvement in a tutoring and mentoring program ended up changing that trajectory. 

Now 27-years-old, Foxy has completed a Diploma of Early Years Learning and is studying for her Bachelor of Early Learning and Primary Teaching. And she is herself a mentor at an evolved version of the program that changed her path. 

“I grew up in Broadmeadows (in Melbourne’s northern suburbs) and went to an after-school study group as a child as I needed extra tutoring,” Foxy says. 

“Both my parents had migrated to Australia in the 1980s, from the Cook Islands and from New Zealand, and I’m from a large family. I thought that if I could finish Year 12 at least, I’d be able to work straight away and help my parents and siblings.

“However, the program exposed me to mentors and ideas, and a network that made me realise I could go higher.”

The after-school study program still runs today, from Banksia Gardens Community Services (BGCS), in Broadmeadows. BGCS the backbone of the  Northern Centre for Excellence in School Engagement (NCESE), to which The Ross Trust provided a grant of $300,000 in 2020.  

The NCESE is a collaborative network of BGSC, 16 primary schools, one secondary school, and the Victorian Department of Education and Training. The challenges for local schools include student disengagement, absenteeism, poor behaviour, suspensions, and a high level of referrals to other schools or support services. 

The community-led preventative approach of NCESE targets students in a state of crisis, who have typically experienced complex trauma and are exhibiting a combination of educational, behavioural, social, and emotional problems. 

The network includes Project REAL, a small, flexible-learning school run by BGCS for locally referred students with complex needs and significant barriers to learning. Project REAL has been operating since 2017 and works closely with partner schools to provide coaching and in-house support.

Deputy CEO of NCESE, Jaime de Loma-Osorio Ricon says that Project Real has a strong focus on professional development for educators and program evaluation.

“We run evidence-based training for all our partner schools and recently held our first conference, which was very successful,” Jaime says. “We have developed our own professional development and schools know they can call us for advice any time.

“We also have rigorous data collection so we can measure staff and student satisfaction and keep track of attendance and critical incidents. 

Project Real has worked with more than 50 students, Jaime says. 

“When we first meet them, their school attendance can be as low as 20 percent but typically we see that go up to 80 or 90 percent,” he says.

Jaime said the support of The Ross Trust was integral to the program’s success. 

“They have been with us from the start, and we are so appreciative,” he says. “Their support has also encouraged funding from other organisations.”

For Foxy, the change in her own trajectory fills her with great hope for the children she supports.

“We work one-on-one with the children, trying to reengage them and building positive relationships with safe adults and peers,” she says. “It’s important that they know the school environment is safe and stable, and will stay that way, no matter what is happening at home.”