With students ranging from 15 to 73 years old and a can-do approach to achievement, it’s not hard to see how Naracoorte High School’s Independent Learning Centre (ILC) won a Flinders University sponsored Brand South Australia Education Award.
The ILC, which is on a separate campus to the High School, puts virtually no limits on who can receive an education – the only condition being that students must be as committed and determined to succeed as the centre’s own staff.
Campus Manager Tammy Schinckel is one of an incredible group which has been changing lives in the South East and transforming their community by re-engaging disenchanted young people.
“Our students range from 15 years old to 73 years old, but it really doesn’t matter how old they are,” Ms Schinckel said.
“We aim to get them feeling good about themselves through education and then we teach them at a level they feel confident.
“Most are year 11 or 12, working for their South Australian Certificate of Education, although some aren’t at SACE level because they have become disengaged at mainstream school.
“One of these young people was fifteen years old, hadn’t attended school anywhere and the attendance officer couldn’t find them for a year.
“That student went from being homeless and disengaged to successfully completing some year 11 and 12 subjects.
“At the other end of the spectrum is school based apprenticeships. One of our students won the School Based Apprentice of the Year award for the region and was one of four finalists in the state.
“I believe we’ve also improved some of the anti-social elements. Our youth now respect the community and the community respects our youth.”
Ms Schinckel said receiving the Brand South Australian Education award in their own community was a moving experience for the team at the ILC because it validated the work they have been doing with their local community.
Perhaps even more importantly, she said it had also boosted the ILC’s students, many of whom felt accepted for the first time.
“The award for us was about seeing the community acknowledging that there is a place for an Independent Learning Centre as a valuable institution in its own right,” she said.
“Words can’t describe the feeling when we received our nomination, especially because it was sponsored by Flinders University.
“Without opportunities like this provided by Brand South Australia it’s a much harder slog to change community perception. And to see the name of our little centre’s in the same space as an institution like Flinders was just mind blowing.
“All of the kids were so excited. The amount of Facebook messages and other lovely messages we got back was amazing.
“You could just see the kids change from years of being told that they are not good enough, to being at the top. It’s like they’ve suddenly gone, ‘Look! We are good, aren’t we!’.”
Although the primary aim of the ILC is to provide education, the centre, its staff and students have worked hard to earn the respect of their community through a range of activities.
“All of our programing is done with community in mind,” Ms Schinckel said. “We have two plots in our community gardens which our students run, and we use the produce for a lunch program at the ILC.
“We also ran a mental health forum this year where a group of ten students did an event management plan for an event where 18 community organisations, which most people didn’t even know about beforehand, provided advice for 800 people.
“When you consider that our high school only has 350 students, that puts it into perspective.”
What’s even more remarkable, according to Ms Schinkel, is the spirit of generosity which exists within the ILC’s students – in spite of many of them getting a rough deal out of life.
“At the start of the year we had five homeless young people with nowhere to go, who didn’t even know where they were getting fed next,” she said.
“In spite of stories like this, our kids don’t see themselves as not having much. In fact, I often find it’s the kids who have less who are willing to give more.
“For example, when we put up our Christmas tree, they decided that they wanted to make it a wishing tree so that they could give things to other people.
“Last year a group also travelled to Cambodia, where we funded and built a wash house for a school which is on the edge of a rubbish dump.
“It was incredible to watch our kids blossom through that, and they learned a lot from the kids over there.
“Some of our kids have every reason to bitch and moan, but they don’t do it. They have real goodness about them, and I think they really know the stuff that matters.
“Their resilience never ceases to amaze me.”