Kick off time at Macleay Vocational College and new hope for young mums

Macleay Vocational College is an independent, vocational high school on the mid north coast of NSW. The College featured on SBS’s Living Black recently showcasing the work the College does with indigenous teen mums.

We spoke with principal, Mark Morrison about what the College offers to young mums and other work he is doing for young people. Mark is a former Parramatta Eels coach and became principal of the College in January 2012.

‘We assist the young mum’s by giving them support and being flexible in both the attendance and assessment expectations.’ Mark says.
‘The Attendance pattern varies with each mother/student, we currently have 3 mothers attending the College and possibly another one on the way. They vary attendance patterns from attending 3 mornings a week or 10.15am-1pm 4 days a week to late starts on all days, non-attendance for sport, generally whatever time frame fits into their care and availability, staff are very accommodating.’

‘Assessment schedules and timeframes are still maintained but with scope for extensions if required, as well as time out of class with Literacy support and scaffolds to break down the requirements into smaller easier chunks that give satisfaction of accomplishment are encouraged at an executive level. Staff maintain records of all tasks and submissions and acknowledge the problem before it surfaces so we can reduce the number of warning letters to discourage achievement.’

‘Sometimes the girls just need time out for talking through their concerns and the College Counsellor provide Professional Assistance and office girls are willing to act as listening boards for support.’

‘We have North Coast Area Health call into the college each Tuesday and have made connections for the mothers with pregnancy advice and health checks if they want it.’

Mark comes back to the College after having been a coach for the Parramatta Eels. He was has been involved in some form with the College since 1995 when he was involved in the initial plans for starting the College with Jann Eason, who founded the College.

Mark’s sporting background has allowed him to find meeting points with the students quickly.

‘I teach Sport Leisure and Recreation as an interest elective and take the students for circuits and training during sport time. We have also commenced training before school twice a week for any student and fitness, as well as after school twice a week for Footy skills and games.’

‘My contacts and standing in the League circles have enabled the College League team to play four games so far this year, which have all been losses but have been massive gains for the boys with their discipline and desire to stay as a unit and try and get better. This is a continual work in progress.’

‘We have been able to get some roles models to attend the College and act as guest speakers and motivators for the students, talking about opportunities and hurdles they have faced in their lives. Both Penrith Panthers and Newcastle Knights along with Country Rugby League have made themselves available and presented to the students.’

What does the future of Macleay Vocational College look like? 
‘I see Macleay Vocational College being a meeting point for all the LOST kids in the Valley who have problems in mainstream Education. Most of these students feel that they have no use in the community and see themselves as disengaged or a nuisance to all. They feel that they don’t fit anywhere and as a consequence fashion their behaviour to suit the TAG. We attempt to build their self-esteem through small achievable goals.’

‘We need to give them skills to become more resilient to change and tolerant of the pressures change brings in everyday life. We need to allow them to explore avenues that give them success in Education so they see it as an integral part of their lives rather than a punishment. We need to be very flexible and compassionate at times with the baggage they come to College with, celebrating every small success rather than condemning and accentuating poor behaviour and choices.’

‘The College must make use of the local infrastructure to allow students who succeed to progress back into mainstream Education in schools, TAFE or other Training organisations. We hold the workplace as a common meeting point to allow students an opportunity to mix amongst all social circles and find their own place in it.’

‘Flexible Learning styles allow us to accept both school age students and the returning students who have a desire to change their lives after 3 or 4 years out of the system. We can promote variable timetable to find the suitable mixture of school and workplace for the students to attain both a consistent inspiring Education and active Learning in the workplace acquiring both skills and certification for attainment of the outcomes.’

‘I feel that many more students attend for partial days and times which promotes a desire and a routine of attendance which before wasn’t acceptable or cannot be produced in a mainstream due to monitoring and the influence of disruption on other students. In the College our focus is to get the students to attend for any time is better than no attendance at all. Gradually we hope to engage these students for more time face to face and more time in the workplace. This will then allow them to feel more confident in entering the workforce and being useful to the community.’

 What is the greatest challenge of the work you do? What is the greatest reward?
‘Being able to get the parents or care givers to recognise the value of Education to enhance their child’s ability to make individual choices in the future. Most students are from broken homes with split families who are already 2nd generation truants and non-believers. For some of our parents their experiences of Education and school is negative and the model they present for their kids is the same but we are trying hard to modify this model and get them to take an interest in their ward or child’s progress and achievement at College.’

‘The greatest rewards are seeing the students achieve, coming to school even when they don’t have a consistent home to live in, or when they are sleeping on the floor of some friends house. School means something to them and they subconsciously recognise the opportunities for them at this school, especially when they have significant records for non-attendance in their previous schools.’

‘It is also very heart wrenching to acknowledge firsthand how many of these kids have suffered due to alcohol, drug and domestic violence throughout their lives, but they still are searching for support and an opportunity, but lack the skills to turn these into a reality.’

Visit the Macleay Vocational College website here.