SOCIAL anxiety was increasingly becoming a sticking point for Loreto College students to speak or perform before classmates after two years in home-learning.
In a radical move, Loreto has sought the expert help from Marko Jovanovic, a National Institute of Dramatic Art trainer and creative, to help break barriers and rebuild confidence.
Mr Jovanovic has been working with students and teachers to move past the fear factors.
This comes after Loreto drama teachers noticed a sharp rise in notes from parents asking for their child to be excused from class, due to anxiety. Loreto College arts faculty leader Stephanie Greet said this would usually be one or two students each year level - instead teachers were getting four or five each class.
"We weren't pressuring kids, we'd pulled right back, but we'd pulled back so much we weren't really teaching drama anymore," Ms Greet said. "We had to get past that fear for students to learn and enjoy and feel enough self-confidence to get up and have a go - it's important for their future."
In the month-long Metamorphosis program, which Ms Greet developed with Mr Jovanovic, year eight students had gone from being in tears at the prospect of speaking in front of their peers to laughing and tackling the challenges.
Students have been involved in intense brainstorming and improvisation workshops to build to a year level showcase.
Ms Greet said the aim was for students to develop their ability and confidence in taking creative risks and building interpersonal and resilience skills, not just for classes but for life skills.
"Marko is really positive but effective in giving students a firm challenge. Marko doesn't let students give up, and he does so in the most supportive way," Ms Greet said.
"He has this ability for having individual challenges for each individual student. He worked really hard to make them all more comfortable in drama."
Marko doesn't let students give up, and he does so in the most supportive way.- Stephanie Greet, Loreto arts faculty leader
Ms Greet successfully secured Mr Jovanovic's help via a Creative Learning Partnerships grant from Creative Victoria. While grants were aimed for STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), she worked on a well-being angle via the arts.
Ms Greet had worked with Mr Jovanovic before with VCE theatre studies and he was keen to jump in and help pull together a proposal.
The $10,000 state government grant was approved three weeks before the end of last term, but the pair wanted no time to waste in reaching students.
Mr Jovanovic has a wealth of experience in training actors of all ages, professional and in school workshops. His body of work also includes being an associate challenge producer on blockbuster television show Lego Masters, developing ideas for contestants to execute.
"I've loved working with Loreto girls - they are dedicated and hard-working. I feel like a proud father watching them coming out of their shells," Mr Jovanovic said.
"...The NIDA training lets you understand what the girls are feeling and the production experience gives you direction in what you're trying to achieve. So, I've tried to bring the subjective and objective views to what we're doing.
"We're not pushing them further than their capacity but making sure we're moving forward."
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Mr Jovanovic's presence in the school has also extended to staff professional development to better understand what students might be feeling while also offering tools for teachers to adopt in different phrasing to encourage students.
The aim was for teachers to keep developing on the lessons he has offered while students continued to try and adapt back to full-time classroom learning, especially amid ongoing pandemic disruptions.
Ms Greet said Mr Jovanovic's positive energy also helped build teacher confidence and motivation in such a busy, challenging time.
"We've tried to make changes in the curriculum so it's not just about helping these kids, but in the long-term helping students feel more confidence," Ms Greet said. "The more students have been online, the more they have lost those one-on-one skills. COVID has reinforced loneliness and social anxiety that we're seeing in classes."
The more students have been online, the more they have lost those one-on-one skills. COVID has reinforced loneliness and social anxiety that we're seeing in classes.- Stephanie Greet. Loreto arts faculty leader
When The Courier visited, there was a high energy in the session with Mr Jovanovic with students talking of how they had rediscovered what they had loved doing when they were younger, such as dancing with their peers.
Ms Greet hoped as year eights began to consider their electives for next year that more students might take up performing arts and "not just to survive drama" but because they enjoyed it. She said drama students also tended to make good school leaders and that was definitely worth trying to nurture.
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