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Getting hands on at Hawkesdale

20 October 2021, Impact of Our Work

How Hands on Learning is making a difference for Crystal

When Crystal started high school last year at Hawkesdale P12 College, it was likely she would continue her pattern of school refusal. She’d started refusing in Year 5 and had stopped attending school as she entered Year 7 completely.  
But her new school had other ideas. Getting her started in a program called Hands on Learning proved to be the answer to getting Crystal engaged first on the school grounds, and then in the classroom. It’s helped build her confidence, her friendships, and given her skills she’s looking forward to using in the future.

Crystal has learnt invaluable skills through Hands on Learning including carpentry and cooking.
Photo: Supplied.

Hands on Learning a success story at Hawkesdale

Hawkesdale P12 College is a small school in regional Victoria, about three hours away from Melbourne. It services approximately 180 students who come from the town and nearby beef, dairy and sheep farming areas.
Save the Children’s ‘Hands on Learning’ program has been part of the school’s offering since 2014, explains assistant principal John Ralph. “It very quickly became part of the culture of our school. We've had six full years of delivering Hands on Learning and dozens of students have successfully moved through the program in that time.”
Hands on Learning takes place on school grounds and engages students who might otherwise be disengaged from classroom-based learning. One or two afternoons a week, artisan teachers take students through practical projects, like building a chook shed, refurbishing outdoor furniture, creating playground play spaces and maintaining gardens. These projects provide significant benefit for members of the school community and the surrounding township district and give students a space to belong and to call their own.
The program has supported thousands of students across Australia to find their passion for learning, both inside and outside the classroom.“For our school it's been a safety net,” says John.“HOL helps with the wellbeing of a range of students, and has worked hard to engage and re-engage students who could easily have disappeared from education.”
“Hands on Learning is one of the things that we do really well at school to keep students on site and in as many classes as they can. If we can do that, we can help them connect with apprenticeships, training, employment and a meaningful future at the end of their time at school.”

Crystal’s story

As a new Year 7 student to Hawkesdale P12 College at the start of 2020, Crystal wouldn’t step foot inside the classroom; sometimes she’d get all the way to the school grounds, and then run away. Her entrance to the school was to be the Hands on Learning shed, a place where she could be herself, and partake in activities she felt comfortable with.
“When I first started, I didn’t know what to expect,” recounts Crystal. “I definitely did not want to go. There was a lot of new people and I felt overwhelmed.”
With the support of artisan teachers Shannon and Damien, she began attending the program one afternoon a week. And then two. And then a full day. Now she’s attending school four days a week, including classroom lessons and a full day with the Hands on Learning team. This year, she’s hoping to make it to school for a full five days a week.  
“In the shed, she’s an A+ student,”
says artisan teacher Damien. “Crystal's quite good - you ask her to do something, and she jumps right into it.” Whether that’s cooking melting moments, helping assemble picnic tables or encouraging the junior years Hands on Learning students, it’s been a boon for Crystal and the school.
Out of the shed, Crystal’s started attending classes, with the help of Sam, her aide in the classroom. “I can definitely say that for Crystal if it wasn't for Hands on Learning there is no way she would be coming to school four days a week.”
She’s now enjoying Maths and Woodwork and has some of next year’s subjects already picked out. “I’ve chosen sport and Hawkesdale Volunteer Group,” she explains.

Crystal is supported by her aide, Sam inside the classroom.
Photo: Supplied.


Giving back to the community  

Hands on Learning projects aren’t just school projects; they’re also community-based and give students a chance to give back. A great illustration of this volunteerism occurred when HOL students were involved with BlazeAid to repair fences after the 2018 St Patrick’s Day bushfires, the repainting of the local swimming pool prior to the last summer season, and maintaining areas at the Hawkesdale Recreation Reserve.
But it’s the friendships and how they’re building the students’ self-esteem that matters the most to artisan teacher Shannon.  
“We are able to help students get back into effective classroom learning and to apply some of the communication skills and teamwork back into their wider environment. Crystal wouldn't even walk up the school corridor when she first started, but we did some work in the school, like repainting all of the classroom doors, so that was her way in and she is much more confident now.”
Damien adds, “With their friendships they pair up and then form bigger groups. After that they seem to support each other outside of Hands on Learning. The friendships carry on.”
With the support of her friends, teachers, and generous Save the Children supporters, there’s no doubt Crystal and her peers in Hands on Learning will be able to put their skills, confidence and teamwork to good use, now and into the future.

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