An increasing number of schools in Ballarat and the surrounding region are choosing to run the Hands on Learning program to cater for their students' diverse and individual learning needs.
Year 12 Mount Clear College student and school captain Angus Bigmore participated in Hands on Learning at this school in Year 9 and 10.
He said the opportunity helped discover his passion for building and uncover his strong leadership skills.
"The practical element was a big thing for me because I wanted to actually get out and do something," he said.
"I didn't know what I wanted to do at the time work wise so that actually really helped like I was hoping it would. I want to be a builder now all thanks to Hands on."
Hands on Learning is an in-school program supported by aid agency Save the Children, taking participating students outside of the classroom one day a week.
I think the biggest thing is knowing what you want to do and how to get there. That is what Hands on showed me.Angus Bigmore, Year 12 Mount Clear College student
Students spend the time at their school working together on practical projects, including construction and hospitality, that foster teamwork, communication and problem-solving skills.
The model creates a place to belong on school grounds but outside the classroom.
Students build relationships, learn through real life projects that give back to the school community and develop strategies to shift attitudes and behaviours that can be barriers to learning in the classroom.
Angus moved to Mount Clear College in Year 8 and said he was feeling 'a lot better' about school compared to previously not wanting to go at all.
He said some of his friends were in the Hands on Learning program and he saw them bragging to other students about getting a day off school to work on the tools.
"I decided I wanted to enjoy it and get it on it with them," Angus said.
"The teachers said they put me in to help keep them on track a bit, to have fun with them but to help guide them at the same time; to be a mate for them there and look out for them."
Angus said Hands on Learning did not feel like being at school, but out on the worksite and the teachers felt more like work mates.
"The teachers would ask us what we thought the next step was. They would guide us but we got to think more for ourselves and be more independent," he said.
"In the morning's when we would talk about what we were going to do there would be a personal quality goal for each of us on the whiteboard. At the end of the day you would see if you had done it or not."
Mount Clear College first started running the Hands on Learning program in 2017.
The major project for participating students since the program began has been to set up a shipping container moved onto the school grounds as the Hands on Learning hub.
Working on the container is how Angus first discovered his love of building as he worked on the frames for the walls.
"We enjoyed doing every bit of that because it was something for us and something to work on," Angus said.
"I loved the thinking of it and maths side of building the frames.
"I went out and did a week of work experience and still loved it so I have been hunting down for an apprenticeship in that and am doing everything I can do to get that."
Angus has completed a VET building course and often works two days a week with local builders as part of his VCAL program.
He made the call to leave the Hands on Learning program in Year 10 as it was becoming difficult to juggle with electives and catch up on school work.
"I think the biggest thing is knowing what you want to do and how to get there. That is what Hands on showed me," he said.
Hands on Learning Ballarat region school support manager Steven Schneider said the program was a different way of learning, not a day off school.
"It is really interesting Angus went in to the program thinking 'I get a day out of class', but then he actually wanted to leave because he was missing class. It is a nice development," he said.
"When people think about Hands on Learning they can often have a deficit mindset, 'what is wrong with these kids and how can we fix them?'.
"But Angus' story shows that Hands on Learning really works from a strengths based approach. What are these students interested in, what are they good at, let's maximise their potential by giving that responsibility and putting them into a nurturing environment.
"That early intervention approach really seems to be working."
Ararat College, Beaufort Secondary College, Phoenix P-12 Community College, Damascus College, Creswick Primary, Daylesford College and Mount Clear College run the program in the region.
Data from programs around the state show Hands on Learning has supported 95 per cent of a highly at risk cohort to remain in school or continue into further education or employment between 2018 and 2021.
Parent feedback revealed Hands on Learning had been a driving factor in giving their child motivation to go to school and boost their confidence and sense of belonging.
Mount Clear College assistance principal Jenny Bromley said the school was looking to run a second Hands on Learning program day to cater for another 10 students.
"There is certainly a need for lots of students to experience what our Hands on Learning kids experience or even some of the models of it to be incorporated into some of our other programs," she said.
"Over COVID, it was amazing. The connection that Brett (teacher) had with the kids in his program doing it remotely, he was meeting with them in the mornings, they were setting goals, they were going out building something in their house, then all sharing it and having lunch together.
"I am sure a lot of the kids were not on for other subjects but they were certainly on for Hands on."
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