Just on 6% of CaSPA Schools provide an alternate education setting for students with a variety of special needs. Peter Chalkley from Borinya School in Wangaratta reflects on his experience:
Presently I am principal of Boronia Wangaratta Community Partnership. It's one of three flexible learning settings in the Sandhurst diocese for disengaged and at-risk secondary aged young people. It's a great place to work.
One of Oscar Romero's statements on ministry, resonates strongly for myself. He states, "This then is what we are about.. we plant seeds that one-day will grow, we water seeds already planted knowing that they hold future promise". I have a strong belief in the future promise of all young people. There is no such thing as a bad kid; while acknowledging that some young people make poor or inappropriate decisions from time to time.
Romero goes on to say, "We are Master Builders not the Messiah's and there is a comfort in knowing this but this is enables us to do something and to do it very well. The 'do it very well' has particular significance. My conviction is that Catholic Education should be having a serious crack at offering the best of opportunities, with the most dedicated, professional staff and quality resources, to many of the young people who are on the margins of our society. This work of educating young people who are disempowered and with obvious needs is important work; it's God's work. We don't always get it right but Borinya is doing this.
While Teaching and Learning will continue to be the core business of every education setting, a school such as Boronia offers a wrap-around additional level of support for the young people in our care that most mainstream settings are unable to provide because of resource constraints or flexibility. My experience is that all schools endeavour to have very effective processes in place to engage students but some young people still need additional support given the multiple barriers that they have in their life that limits or seriously impact their educational outcomes and pathways.
A comment about parent engagement in such a setting as Boronia. I often say that we are dealers of hope to both young people and their families. This has nothing to do with hoping that Essendon might win a flag soon or winning Tattslotto!! But to say to an anxious, sometimes desperate parent, 'we won't accept rubbish behaviour from your child but we won't give up they deserve a valid education', is indeed of source of genuine hope. It is the hope of the gospel.
Working at Boronia and I suspect, working in any flexible learning setting with disengaged or difficult students is both challenging and rewarding. I sometime say, you need a tough skin and a soft heart and I see that among the committed, professional and caring staff that I work with on a daily basis. In one sense the highs are higher and the lows are lower but I go back to my original statement; it's a great place to work.