Mentoring, leadership and smooth transition
The ‘Deadly Start 2 High School’ transition program is taking place in the Southern Adelaide region of the Department of Education and Community Services. This is a large region, stretching from Glenelg to Sellicks Beach. Last year, a total of 60 students from 13 primary schools and eight high schools were involved. Benefits for primary school students are in terms of better transition to high school, while high school students have an opportunity to act as mentors.
The program is not designed to replace the transition days run by individual high schools, but rather to provide extra opportunities for students to step out of their comfort zones and get ready for change.
Claire Jenkins is Aboriginal Education Coordinator (AEC) in the region. She tells us how the program came about:
We were having a network meeting a few years ago of ACEOs [Aboriginal Community Education Officers] and AETs [Aboriginal Education Teachers] and all the people involved with Aboriginal Education. They were saying that a number of Year 7 students were disengaged from school, or acting up and that in Year 8 the suspension rates were too high. So they wanted to improve transition from primary to high school.
I was quite new to the job at the time and when I asked whether this was a new situation, they said it wasn’t. And I figured that when something is brought up from the grass roots like this, we need to honour what people want to do, and support them. So we defined some aims and purposes and developed a program of workshops for students, based on what people thought was needed.
We were able to engage Bec Harvey from ‘Community Partnerships at Work’ to facilitate the sessions. She didn’t do it all, though, because the AETs and ACEOs from the schools were co-facilitators. It was important that we had someone like Bec, who’s a young Aboriginal woman who has been through the education system to university level and we could have complete confidence in her.
The schools have to get their kids and some of their staff to the workshops, and that’s the commitment they make to the program. That’s their buy-in. But we didn’t want to make it a huge thing where kids were missing large chunks of school; we wanted to make it as flexible as we could so that we would cater for a range of sites. It’s something we can offer to schools without making huge demands on them.
In the longer term, after the kids go to high school, they have older mentors there who they already know and feel comfortable with. The kids who have gone to high school this year tell us they’re doing fine.
In the workshops we did a lot of small group stuff where the kids talked about the things that were concerning them. They found that empowering. Then there were activities like ‘Rock and Water’, where kids realise they are making choices about how they react in certain situations, and it really connected with them. We also asked them what worried them and what excited them about going to high school. And then in the final workshop (after the actual transition) we asked them for their recommendations.
They’re developing skills, so they aren’t self-absorbed, but they realise that although this transition is a big change, it’s something they can adapt to without too much anxiety. And we hope all these skills are transferable whenever they have to adapt and cope with change.
The kids who have gone through the transition are now asking ‘what’s next?’ and they’re looking forward to being mentors themselves. That affirms that they have skills and experiences that they value and they see themselves as leaders.
We also had little sessions for parents as part of one workshop, but we realised that the linkage with parents could be done differently. So ‘Families as Career Partners’ partly evolved because of that.
Anne Leenders is Industry Skills Manager in the Outer Southern Adelaide Region and Peter Leolkes holds a similar position in the Inner Southern Adelaide Region. Their roles are not restricted to supporting only Aboriginal students but more widely ‘to provide leadership and and support to schools with secondary enrolments to achieve the following goal: That young people in the Southern Adelaide Region have an increased capacity to make a successful transition through and from school to work and/or further learning’.
They discuss the ‘Families as Career Partners’ initiative:
Ann Leenders (left), with Claire Jenkins and What Works consultant Di Grigg
At the end of last year we got together with Bec and talked about what had worked and what hadn’t worked, and where we should go from here. We realised that we needed to support students more as they move through high school, so that they wouldn’t get lost, and that families were a big part of that.
We listened to our Steering Groups, and many of those people were involved with families on a daily basis. They said that parents wanted more information about how to support their kids through high school and out of that came the fact that they also wanted to know more about post-school options.
Each Steering Group determined a format for a ‘Families as Career Partners’ event. In the Outer South we had an open forum with food, a bit like a mini-expo. All the ‘Deadly Start’ kids were there and their artwork was all around the walls.
In the Inner South we went through a whole lot of different ideas but then came up with the idea of providing information via a dinner, but with interactive activities, like quizzes. There were a number of different speakers, including some Aboriginal people who’d left school not very long ago themselves. And those people didn’t gild the lily about their own experiences of career counselling at school — they didn’t think it had been very good at all.There was a facilitator at each table, and all the concerns of parents were written down. We’re now collating that information, to feed it back to the Steering Groups. One of the common things was that parents want more Aboriginal culture in schools.
One of the strengths of this was that we didn’t own it, which I think is really important. We paid for it, but it was the community that said ‘this is what we want and this is how we want to do it’, so I think that’s why it was so successful. There was a lovely atmosphere, where Aboriginal people were involved right the way through.
The strategy has to be that parents have a good experience and don’t get bogged down in our agenda. That way it’s not a one-off, it’s really just the start of an ongoing conversation. People will come again.