FAME Flexible Learning Centre has been working with disenfranchised young people since the mid 1990s and EREA is planning to find a suitable site in the Christies Downs area to create a permanent home for the school.
EREA is also working with CESA as part of the ‘Vision for the North’ and will be establishing a similar permanent school in the northern suburbs. This year it offered an outreach of FAME to engage young people in the area, using some rooms in St Patrick’s Technical College and at Elizabeth TAFE.
Classified as Special Assistance Schools, they continue the mission of Edmund Rice, founder of the Christian Brothers.
Gerard Keating, EREA Central West Network principal, said there were more than 20 flexible learning centres across Australia for young people who for many complex reasons are unable to be part of a mainstream school.
“These schools are vital and there is a growing need for them,” he said.
“There are more and more young people who are falling through the cracks of mainstream schooling for all sorts of reasons…their past engagement with education, their family circumstances and own personal circumstances.”
With almost a decade as head of campus, Yvonne Schultz said it was always wonderful to witness the transformation of “disengaged” students becoming engaged in the FAME way of learning.
“What surprises me is the resilience in the kids. That’s what keeps us going,” she said.
“We have young people who have not been at school for up to 18 months and others who have had lots of gaps in their schooling.
“They come here and we find in this environment they’re not frustrated, they’re not angry, they feel safe, they are not categorised.
“Many of our young people have commented that at their previous school if you can’t keep up then you get further behind, you get into conflict with your teachers, fall out with your peers – by the time they come to us they are exhausted.”
As the name suggests, FAME (Flexible Accredited Meaningful Engagement) means the students can study at their own pace, with many choosing to complete Year 12 over two years. VET programs are also offered.
The school follows the Australian curriculum with a focus on literacy, numeracy and general capabilities. This year nine students graduated from SACE; some are going on to study at university and others will enter the workforce.
While some students may be living independently, Ms Schultz stressed that many others had families who cared about them and wanted them to attend school.
“We have a lot of contact with the families. If the student doesn’t turn up we ring up and find out what we can do.
“We aim to support parents too, as many of them feel disempowered and blamed for their children leaving mainstream school and we would like them to have a better experience while their children are here.”
Ms Schultz said mental health was a “huge issue” for many of the students and there was a growing number diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Year 11 student Molly, 16, said she struggled with her mental health and before coming to FAME would sometimes “stay in bed all day”.
“Before I was feeling shitty and didn’t go to school, I hated seeing people and now I feel so welcomed and the kids here don’t judge you. I love coming here…now I am so bright and happy and get my school work done. I have the most supportive teachers,” she said.
Living in accommodation for young homeless, Molly hopes to complete Year 12 and become a youth counsellor.
After being “asked to leave” her previous school, Makayla, 19, said her family was “so proud” of her when she graduated from Year 12 this year.
“I mucked up quite a lot when I first started here but Yvonne never gave up on me and I matured and got into work and stuck it out,” she said.
“This school is not time framed so you can do your work at your own pace…I get along and socialise with people a lot better here.”
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