Students taking a practical approach

By Holly Tregenza

RUNNING a restaurant, building a dunk machine or growing a veggie patch might not sound like the traditional classroom that you’re used to.

But for students completing year 11 and 12 VCAL at Kyabram P-12 College, it makes perfect sense.

These are all real projects from this year’s cohort of kids, who have recognised they can learn better and reach higher by undertaking a more hands-on approach to their schooling.

Gone are the days of enforcing a regimented classroom setting that studies show simply don’t work for some students. Education is evolving, and these Ky high schoolers are at the forefront.

At the moment, Victoria offers two senior secondary qualifications — the Victorian Certificate of Education (VCE) and the Victorian Certificate of Applied Learning (VCAL).

The VCAL is designed for students who have more of a practical post-education pathway in front of them. Often these students enter apprenticeships, physical labour or retail jobs.

VCAL coordinator Mitch Coombs said the goal is to get students prepared for the workforce by giving them practical experiences and improving their work-related skills.

“We hope to strengthen transferable life skills so they can be successful in whatever their future brings,’’ he said.

One of the VCAL program’s most popular initiatives is the in-house café, dubbed the ‘School Ground Café’. It’s got a full-scale coffee machine and appointed student managers.

“In this environment students are required to not only make coffees and hot chocolates for their customers and interact with them as professionals, but also deal with the financial side of the operation, ordering supplies and managing the work,” Mr Coombs said.

“We have found that this is a great microcosm of what the workplace expects and it primes them for the more specific requirements of their desired workplace.”

Year 12 VCAL student Daniel Pel is assistant manager of the café and is the self-appointed “best hot chocolate maker in the school”.

“Being a part of the café for the last two years has really helped me with my social skills,” he said.

“When I first started my speech was hard to hear and a lot of people couldn’t understand me. I’ve improved a lot. I would love to start my own coffee shop some day and this has given me lots of skills to do that.”

Another group of three students built a ‘dunk machine’ last term, and a different group are planning a series of fundraisers for the Kyabram Gift. Students have installed a water tank and new carpet for their VCAL classroom.

These projects develop the students’ literacy and numeracy skills through a combination of research, written proposals, management, ordering of materials and budgeting.

Central to the course is having students involved with the community as much as possible. This has the added benefit of building opportunities to develop contacts for future work experience and potential employment.

And it’s great for the community, too. The Unwin Street kindergarten recently approached the VCAL team and asked the students to landscape a portion of their yard — giving the kinder kids a better place to play.

The next big project for the VCAL students is a book swap shop, where members of the public can get and give books for free off the shelves in an exchange program. The idea is to reduce barriers to literacy in Kyabram.

Mr Coomb said he is looking forward to engaging with the community in their biggest public project yet.

“Students’ confidence and community engagement will inevitably increase through this work as they are able to develop a sense of ownership over the community in which they live,” he said.