Covering the Goulburn and Murray valleys

Cobram education service in danger of closing

Cobram's Uniting Care Cutting Edge schooling program assisting disegaged and disadvantaged students is financially usustainable.

ROB HENSON May 20, 2014 3:27am

Duty of care: Uniting Care Cutting Edge CYCLE Program manager Debhrina Fuller and youth worker Kayla Morris.

A unique Cobram school offering disadvantaged students a path to employment is at risk of closure if ongoing funding is not found.

Uniting Care Cutting Edge’s CYCLE (Connecting Youth to Community Learning and Education) program provides an accommodating environment for students who have disengaged from the mainstream school system.

Manager Debhrina Fuller said the Cobram branch’s aim was ‘‘to empower young people to achieve what they want to achieve, to be able to achieve what every other young person can.’’

‘‘Our young people tend to disengage and have lots of barriers, such as family breakdowns, homelessness, mental health issues, young families and that just makes it extremely hard to attend mainstream schooling,’’ Ms Fuller said.

‘‘It’s about still providing those education opportunities to achieve whatever goals they want and we provide them with the tools to do that.’’

But the not-for-profit initiative is running at a $50000 annual loss.

Ms Fuller said the system as it stood was financially unsustainable.

‘‘We were actually going to close (this year), but we did some negotiation and agreed we will stay open 18 months, and we’ve been trying to find money since to make that $50000 shortfall.’’

Part of the appeal included a Combined Services Club Dinner on Wednesday night, with proceeds going to the CYCLE Program.

About 110 people attended the function at Cobram Barooga Golf Club and heard Ms Fuller speak about her work.

The modest house with less than two full-time staff provides services as broad as drug and alcohol counselling and assistance with legal issues, to helping young mothers and being their birthing partners.

‘‘Education is a big part of this, but often it’s the secondary part, it’s the welfare part that’s more important,’’ Ms Fuller said.

‘‘If you haven’t had a good feed and sleep then it’s impossible to learn anything.’’

Ms Fuller said the program started ‘‘by accident’’ when a project called Youth Transition outgrew its capacity.

‘‘When I had 30 to 40 kids, the schools wouldn’t have them back, the TAFE wouldn’t take them, so I accidentally started a program here,’’ she said.

‘‘I asked to start up some short courses here, to build up their suitability for employment. The kids were doing first aid, food handlers’ certificate, things like that, but we wanted to do more, and where could we do that? So it naturally evolved.’’

She said in six and a half years about 130 students had attended the service.

‘‘We’ve had students with serious drug issues who are now off and completing their degree,’’ Ms Fuller said.

‘‘So it makes it all worthwhile, when you’ve got a kid on the phone and they’re saying ‘I’ve only got one subject left to go and then I’ll have my psychology degree!’

‘‘We only have a nine per cent dropout rate and it’s usually because they’ve found employment or they’ve relocated.’’

Now partnered with The Centre community college, Wangaratta, the program has two programs in Cobram and Shepparton, both with about 20 students each, run by three and a half equivalent full-time staff.

Ms Fuller said if the education provider was to close the kids would have nowhere else to turn.

‘‘Because there’s no other agency in Cobram. There’s outreach services... from Shepparton. But apart from Community House, there’s nothing that provides kids with something that they come out of it with full qualifications.

‘‘Everyone says, well (if we closed) they’ll just deal with it like they did before. But they shouldn’t have to, they should have the same opportunities that other kids have.

‘‘And for every young person gaining employment, that’s another person not on Centrelink and we have quite a high unemployment rate (in Cobram).

‘‘The school now offers students a Certificate III in general education and we’ve just put in an application for VCAL as well.’’

School days are not your average at the CYCLE program, with a high proportion of young mothers.

‘‘We had to start a playgroup next door because we had so many babies in class, there was no space to teach in.

‘‘It’s not like you come in every morning and say ‘good morning miss’.

‘‘You might be consoling somebody who’s crying for the first hour.’’

Some students work from home via the internet, and courses are ‘‘self-paced’’ and can be completed in six months, a year or two years.

And a typical day also involves feeding the homeless or directing calls on domestic violence matters.

‘‘We’re just too soft,’’ Ms Fuller laughs.

‘‘You can’t have somebody turn up and say they’re hungry and then turn them away.’’

Students arrive from as far away as Tocumwal, Katamatite, and Yarrawonga for classes four days a week.

Youth worker Kayla Morris said they also sourced mental health clinicians, anger management and stress management for students.

And in a bid to motivate their pupils, they have gone as far as taking kids to the gym every morning.

‘‘We cover every aspect — mind, body and soul,’’ Ms Morris said.

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