Participants of a Ballarat flexible learning program are celebrating the successful completion of their student driven projects.
DOTS Program students pitched project ideas to improve the Delacombe or DOTS community and spent a semester bringing them to fruition.
Parents and teachers recognised the work of students to create an Indigenous art mural, DOTS hoodie and a gym program with memberships at a celebration at Delacombe’s Doug Dean Reserve on Wednesday morning.
Teacher Emma Hampson said the Pitch Up projects motivated and excited students to re-engage in education.
“Xavier is usually quiet, but the fact he pitched the idea for the art mural himself was great to see and now he can see his project on the wall,” she said.
The Central Highlands has one of the highest rates of early school leavers in Victoria.
Data shows more than one in five students in the region are dropping out of school early.
The DOTS Program works with vulnerable youth who may suffer depression, anxiety, bullying or other factors that have caused them to disengage from education.
Program staff help participants reconnect with education, build their skill sets and move them forward onto future pathways which could be back to school or moving on to work or TAFE.
Ballarat is lucky because we do have options for alternative programs, but there are more kids who are disengaged.Emma Hampson, DOTS Program
“We help kids who have struggled in education find their passion and give them the tools to get where they need to go,” Ms Hampson said.
Students usually spend around 12 months in the DOTS Program, but time can vary depending on each students’s needs. About 55 students are currently engaged in the DOTS Program.
“Ballarat is lucky because we do have options for alternative programs, but there are more kids who are disengaged,” Ms Hampson said.
“It is an important service that all schools need to have because the mainstream doesn’t fit everyone. It is really important the kids do have somewhere to go because otherwise if there weren’t alternative programs like ours they would be sitting at home doing nothing at that primary school base level.”
The Ballarat DOTS Program is supported by Phoenix P-12 Community College. Many participants transition back to full time learning at the school after participating in the program.
“One of our students had high anxiety and it took a long time for them to engage or even talk to other people,” Ms Hampson said.
“They have been with the program for 12 months, now has a strong social group, has started transitioning back to Pheonix College and will be starting a full time program there next year.”
The latest Victorian government On Track survey revealed 621 young people in Ballarat exited school before completing year 12 in 2016. That same year 1239 young people completed year 12 or equivalent in Ballarat.
The Central Highlands Child and Youth Area Partnership has set an ambitious goal to see all students complete year 12 by 2030.
Alternative options to mainstream school known as ‘flexible learning programs’, like the Berry Street School, FLIP program run at Ballarat High School, DOTS program at Pheonix P-12 Community College and LinkUp at Ballarat Secondary College, are seen as playing a part to re-engage students in education.
Ms Hampson said the need for these programs may change in the future depending on how the education system in Ballarat develops.
“A lot of schools now are having a more student centered focus, focusing on their well-being and identifying mental health as a significant issue impacting students and their education,” she said.
“In an idealistic world we would get to the point where there wouldn’t be a need for these alternative programs but at this point there is a need to support those kids who don’t fit the mainstream.”