Academy of school life | The standard

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The Clontarf Academy offers native boys a chance to build a future for themselves, JARROD WOOLLEY reports. IN a classroom at Warrnambool West Elementary School, Jamie Ellis relishes his role as a teacher assistant during science and physical education classes. He is also looking to the future, planning for the next year when he travels to Melbourne to study paramedical medicine at the Australian Catholic University, a dream he has cherished since he was a teenager. But Jamie knows things could have been different if he hadn’t attended Clontarf Academy in Warrnambool. “I would have definitely dropped out of school,” he said. “I probably would have looked for any kind of stable job, anything I could find. But now I can do whatever I want. The 18-year-old is one of the latest in a long list of successful graduates from Clontarf Academy, a program that accompanies mainstream secondary education with the aim of keeping young indigenous boys in school. Clontarf Academies cater for around 3,000 boys at 55 schools in Western Australia, Victoria, the Northern Territory and New South Wales, with 31 boys involved in Warrnambool Academy, which started in 2010. She operates in Warrnambool’s two public secondary schools – Warrnambool and Brauer Colleges. In 2009, the year before Warrnambool College was established, attendance rates for native boys in both schools were 68%. Last year it was 91%. “It’s exponential. You can see the program is working, ”said Warrnambool Academy Director Mick Riddle. “We want to train better people to participate more meaningfully in society. “We are working with them to improve their health, discipline, leadership and employment opportunities. This is the reason why Clontarf exists. Mr Riddle said he and academy operations officer Graeme Twaddle assumed the boys would graduate from high school. “We are not deviating from that, but if it is not for them, then we are supporting them with a path to employment,” he said. Jamie completed his 12th grade at Brauer College last year and, through the academy, worked with WestVic Staffing Solutions to complete an internship as a teaching assistant, working three days a week at Warrnambool West and the other two in Brauer. He said the academy had a huge impact on his life. “It’s like a big support group. You don’t see them as workers, you see them as companions, ”he said. Mr Riddle said the boys do regular schoolwork and Clontarf helps them with tutoring and other support. But he said the academy’s other role was to provide an engaging, rewarding and exciting program within the school environment so that it becomes a given that boys want to go to school. “There are all kinds of trips and programs out there, but the condition is that the boys have to have at least 80% attendance to participate,” he said. “We work a lot outside of school hours and work during their lunch hours. “We have great support. Engagement Support Officers Koori Wayne Harradine, Steve Young and Rob Lowe embraced the program from the start. It is important that we have these links with the school, the community, the employment offices and that everyone joins us – this is the only way it will work. Mr. Riddle said a twinning program with local elementary schools was another important part of the program. “For the 6th grade boys who will be participating in Clontarf next year, they are building friendships and bonds. Warrnambool West Elementary School science teacher Meagan Roberts said Jamie’s presence in the classroom worked wonderfully. “Kids love to bring him over. He has a passion for science and is able to explain how things work in a language they will understand, ”she said. Mr Riddle said the Warrnambool academy will be there for as long as needed. “Since we got on board we have seen boys regularly graduate in grade 12 which had never happened before Clontarf,” he said. “We have very good numbers for years 7, 8 and 9 at the moment and we are confident that they will move on to year 12.” The beauty of the program is that we stay involved in their lives, we don’t break up the links after they graduate. We have a scholarship boy at Scotch University in Melbourne and when we go on the trip we’ll catch up with him and see how he’s doing and offer all the support we can.


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