Engaged students growing in confidence and ability (Courtesy of the Coober Pedy Area School) © Commonwealth of Australia, National Indigenous Australians Agency,

Previously disengaged students in Coober Pedy Area School, South Australia are coming back thanks to an innovative program customising school to meet each student’s individual needs.

The Alternative Learning Centre (ALC) at the Area School is helping students like Sharnie.

‘The work in my old classes was way too hard but the work in the ALC is targeted at my level and allows me to feel successful at school,’ Sharnie said.

‘I like the ALC rather than my other classes because I have a better relationship with the teacher and I get the help I need when I need it.’

Students learning to cook in the Trade Training Centre at Coober Pedy Area School

The ALC was established in 2018 with a goal to increase school attendance, academic achievement and personal confidence.

And the goal is being achieved with many students, who were either regular non-attenders or unwilling or unable to attend for full days, now attending regularly and for the whole day.

Tennayah Evans who teaches at the centre said, “‘The effectiveness of the program comes from tailoring to students’ needs and wants. To begin with, students were apprehensive and often unsettled, but now the students are comfortable in their setting and thriving.”

Students learning to cook in the Trade Training Centre

With the regular attendance has come increased confidence and growing self-esteem for the 28 enrolled students. Some students have already returned to classes within the mainstream school.

Important factors in the success of the program are smaller class sizes, flexibility in attendance hours and days, and continuity between teachers and staff. Students feel safe, heard and respected in an environment that is less overwhelming than a mainstream class.

The ALC has a strong focus on literacy and numeracy, providing students with the basics for success and independence in the outside world.

The program closely monitors disengaged students regardless of whether they are attending or not, through frequent contact with parents and caregivers and regular home visits to encourage students to attend.

Sandra Warren, grandmother to 4 of the students said, “‘My grandchildren in there are not showing as much anger and the boys are sitting down doing their work when they never used to do that”.

“It is the first time seeing my grand-kids smiling and look forward to coming to school.”

Students working on their individual learning with support from Janice and Olivia

Gary Crombie said his children want to go and he no longer has to chase them off to school.

“[I am] so proud of Krista, of the effort she is now putting in. She is there at 8am every day waiting for the centre to open,” he said.

“She now comes home talking about school and how much she is learning.”

Coober Pedy Area School Deputy Principal Michael Beelitz, responsible for managing the ALC said, “‘We have students who weren’t coming for the last 2 years and are now waiting at the door an hour before school starts.”

“The growth the students are showing personally, as well as academically, is exciting”, said Michael.

The National Indigenous Australian Agency’s Children and Schooling Programme supports the Coober Pedy Alternative Learning Centre.

It also partners with a student support program through the South Australian Aboriginal Secondary Training Academy (SAASTA) which, offers opportunities to achieve credits towards South Australian Certificate of Education completion.

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