Students at Ballarat's Berry Street School are engaging in hands on learning through a new weekly program.
A group of students were putting down weed mat and mulching around new plants while another group leveled out a new path when The Courier visited the school this week.
Four students worked with a teacher laying bricks to form a new garden bed, while a team worked in the kitchen to cook for the crews hard at work.
The media team took photos and videos to document the progress and interviewed students and teachers about their projects, while a planting team prepared and designed an Indigenous garden.
This is a way of ensuring that the young person is able to respond with the best possible outcome.Joanne Alford, Berry Street School principal
Berry Street School teacher Cameron Ross instigated the regular hands on learning program after seeing students enjoy building a chicken coup together at the school last year.
He said the whole school came together to start the current projects soon before COVID-19 hit and it was a good way to re-engage with school after a period of learning from home throughout the pandemic.
"This gives kids a chance to learn with their heads and their hands and make sense of some of the numeracy concepts they learn in class by measuring volume or estimating the area they are going to work in," Mr Ross said.
"For some kids working hands on outdoors is just what they need.
"It also helps build a rapport with the kids. You get to know them more closely and they build more trust with you."
Ballarat is one of Berry Street's four secondary school campuses that adopts a trauma-informed approach to education.
The 43 students at Ballarat's Berry Street School may have experienced significant gaps in their learning due to trauma, disability or difficulty in the mainstream education system.
Principal Joanne Alford said low students numbers and a high teacher to student ratio allowed staff to help students more closely.
Students address teachers by their first names and teachers focus on forming connections with students with unconditional positive regard.
"Sometimes traditional teaching models or pedagogy can mean that unwittingly you can shame a student by the way a teacher is relating to them; you may put them under pressure or you may not be able to see the signs of anxiety," Ms Alford said.
"This is a way of ensuring that the young person is able to respond with the best possible outcome.
"If you look at the relationship between the teacher and the young people, it is that connection... that is what engagement looks like."
Berry Street School student Kayde buttered bricks as part of the bricklaying team when The Courier visited on Thursday.
He said he was interested in bricklaying and working with the team at school would help him learn skills to go further in the trade.
Bricklaying is a new skill for student Gemma.
She said she was enjoying learning in a new way outside of the classroom.
Older and younger students worked together in teams on the projects.
Student Alex said the group had been productive working as a team.
"I like the hands on bit of it, instead of sitting in a classroom all day you are doing something productive," he said.
"I have learnt a lot. I have learnt how to mix mortar, how to deal with this beautiful weather and learnt how to lay bricks."
Berry Street School assistant principal Damian McKee said each student's role played on their character strengths and passions.
"Unfortunately in society people can make assumptions about kids very early on in the piece that because they can't deal with mainstream schooling there is not much hope for them," he said.
"It is just a matter of investigating, giving them options, understanding what their characters strengths are and working with them so you can find their niche.
"One of the boys is designing an Indigenous garden. Horticulture is his absolute passion. He will be a really successful farmer or horticulturalist one day."
Mr McKee said the high student attendance numbers on hands on learning days was an indication students wanted to participate.
"We underestimate using your hands and learning from that," he said.
"There are spring offs from this in literacy and numeracy. What better way to learn?"
Ballarat's Berry Street School is currently at full capacity, but there are plans for an extension with new portable buildings.
Mr McKee said the need for alternative education offerings like Berry Street School was 'staggering', with about 1400 children not attending school in the Central Highlands region.
He said it was great have the students back at school following a period of online learning during COVID-19 lockdown, when teachers were busy checking on student welfare and delivering online lessons.
Mr McKee said the experience helped teachers be creative and learn new skills.
Options are now set up for online learning in line with the school's flexible learning arrangements, with the aim of getting students to then engage with learning onsite.
Mr McKee and Mr Ross said they would love to see the hands on learning program continue.
The Berry Street School hands on learning project is funded by the Scobie and Claire Mackinnon Trust and the federal government's Local Schools Community Fund thanks to the support of Ballarat MP Catherine King.