When teachers at Ballarat High School realised their year nine students were not as engaged with their schooling as they would like, then looked far and wide for ideas about how to address the problem.
The answer to the problem slowly took shape at the back of the school oval throughout 2018 and the current crop of year nine students are the first to spend the year in the purpose-built ARCH learning centre.
Two thirds of all their classes take place in the $1.8 million education centre.
And unlike other year levels where classes are in different classrooms spread across the school, the year nines largely stay in the one classroom and have two teachers who cover all the core subjects.
Teachers are also converts to the new program, enjoying team teaching with colleagues and caring for a single year level of students.
"Probably 10 years ago we recognised that data was point to year nine as not having as high level of engagement as other year levels," said BHS vice principal of year seven to nine Shane Mathison.
"You have the year seven/eight program, and the year 10-11-12 seniors but at year nine we wanted to help them feel really engaged, connected and part of the school."
"We wanted them to have their own space, to feel really connected and to have a year where they can focus on who they are and get ready to move to the senior school."
Its name, ARCH, is both an acronym for the year nine program 'active, resilient, connected, happy' and a nod to its location within sight of the Ballarat Arch of Victory and Avenue of Honour.
With private open space behind the building, Mr Mathison said there were plans to transform it in to a sporting field, undercover areas and seating for the 275 students who are based in the building.
Inside, the classes are paired and separated by a panel wall allowing teachers to open up classes to work together or remain private.
To increase the students' sense of ownership of their spaces, their lockers are inside the classrooms so they have all their supplies at hand.
Students also have access to a kitchenette to heat and prepare their lunches.
Mr Mathison said teachers and students had reported a "feeling of calmness" in the space, which is full of natural light and windows looking out to green views.
"We wanted a really clear identity that you are year nine, it's your space and you are the only ones that use this building," Mr Mathison said.
Staff in the ARCH centre only teach year nine and receive a time allowance for student wellbeing and engagement activities.
"At year nine students are starting to decide which way they want to go with their lives and this gives them an opportunity to have someone really close to them to support them through that time.
"At year 10 they branch out and pick subjects to put them on their pathways, and it's really good to have those people they know really well to support them through that."
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