When Dane Paulsen started teaching in the Out-Teach Mobile Education program, he set a target to achieve a 95% attendance rate from his students. His program directors laughed at him and suggested he set a more realistic goal. After delivering more than three hundred lessons, the rate is now around 94%.
“I’m not interested in what they’ve done or why they got into trouble. For me that doesn’t define them – what’s really important is where they want to go.” - Dane Paulsen
“So, yeah, I’ve dipped below my target,”
“But for kids that have sometimes been out of education for four or five years and some that have recorded attendance rates in high school as low as 6%, I think to achieve 94% says a lot about what the students want to do and how much they actually want to be involved in education.”
Outside the box
The Out-Teach Mobile Education program is literally run from the back of a van.
It’s a one-on-one outreach teaching initiative that aims to re-connect students who are disengaged or at risk of disengaging from education.
Dane’s students are aged between 10 and 18 and have all had some level of involvement in the criminal justice system. Their back-stories vary greatly but contain common themes of trauma, abuse and neglect.
“Traditionally these young people have had very negative experiences with school,”
Dane explains. “A lot of them end up in trouble because they don’t really do well in the mainstream school classroom environment.”
“They lack confidence and a lot of them have missed years of schooling so they don’t actually have the ability to do the level of work that’s expected of them. When they’re ready to re-engage with education they find it really hard to get back in by themselves and they need that extra layer of support.”
Learning to trust again
Holly* joined the Out-Teach program in 2015 after coming through our Supporting Young People Through Bail program.
She had a history of being suspended through primary school and her behavioural issues continued into high school. By the time she met Dane she was failing all her subjects and not coping well with the classroom dynamics.
“I find it hard to concentrate when everyone’s talking,”
“And I find it hard to do things without having one-on-one work. Like being shown actually how to do the work. Otherwise I don’t understand it. Then in the classroom, I’m just left sitting there thinking ‘what do I do, how am I supposed to understand it’”.
When she began the Out-Teach program with Dane, Holly’s main aim was to improve her grades.
The mobile education van allowed Holly to work in different settings outside of the classroom. It also gave her the exclusive attention and flexibility she needed.
“Dane makes it easier to understand the questions and actually shows you how to understand the work … I find it easier to work outside of school than being in school. It’s a lot easier.”
By the end of her first year in the program, Holly passed all of her subjects. But both she and Dane are quick to point out that their sessions are about more than just grades.
“I felt really good last year,”
Holly tells us. “Knowing that I actually finished it. Like I didn’t think I was going to. At all. I didn’t think I was going to pass. So I was really happy that I did.”
We asked her what made her most proud.
“Knowing I could actually sit in a classroom and not get annoyed with the teachers. Like I treat them more as a friend now, with more respect. I don’t swear at them and stuff because they’re actually there to help me and now I realise that. That’s one thing that I’m proud of, that I actually realise that.”
The undoubtable impact
Save the Children has been working with young people in Tasmania's juvenile justice system since 2011. Our mentoring and support programs for youths on bail and in transition from detention have a proven track record for reducing re-offending and getting troubled young lives back on track.
In Australia, the rate of recidivism for young offenders is around 65%. But of those engaged in the Out-Teach program in Tasmania, more than 80% are not re-offending.
The programs were developed in response to Tasmania’s notably high number of juveniles in detention and to fill an obvious void in the amount of support being offered to young people re-entering the community.
Since the programs have been operating, there has been a 66% drop in the number of young people in detention and a 44% drop in the number in court.
In the case of Holly and the new path she seems determined to pursue, Dane acknowledges the role he and the Out-Teach program have played but insists it’s Holly herself who has led the way.
“I can’t take credit for what she’s done. She now sees teachers as allies instead of enemies and she sees her education as her short-cut to success, rather than what’s holding her back.”
“And the fact she’s so willing to engage and so interested in achieving, she has that belief, and when these kids have that belief and that hunger to succeed and to learn – no teacher can ask for more than that.”
Header image: Dane Paulsen, educator on the Out-teach program, with the mobile education van outside of Hobart.
Photographer: Robert McKechnie/Save the Children Australia
*Name changed to protect identity