Like all towns, St. Arnaud, (a township of just under 3000 residents), has witnessed a shift in demographics over some time. Unfortunately for St. Arnaud, this change has come with challenges and has been the result of a number of factors; including an ageing population, a number of families who have been attracted to the area for cheaper housing and drought which has exacerbated hardship for many who rely on agricultural pursuits.
Situated on the main road between Melbourne and Mildura, the local schools in St. Arnaud have worked together over many years to embed creative programs aimed at providing their students the best opportunities possible to ensure that hardship does not define their student’s future prospects or aspirations. Programs such as Right Choices, Strengthening Families and The Power Hour have operated as a partnership between the St. Arnaud schools and the wider community resulting in improved school attendance and educational outcomes.
Over the past three years, a bold partnership between the St. Arnaud schools (both the Catholic and government schools), the Helen-McPherson Smith Trust and Country Education Partnership has seen the strengthening of a whole-of-community approach to learning, building upon the work that has previously been done through school partnerships and initiatives. Initial community consultation involved surveys of the local school students and community meetings involving the schools, support services, municipal council and key sports groups and businesses.
A number of key areas were identified as being of importance and have been targeted this year due to their impact on education; that is, adequate healthy nutrition and developing the aspiration of St. Arnaud’s youth. As a result, action plans have been drafted and enacted to address these issues, utilising all the support services and expertise that the community has been able to muster.
Over 170 students from St. Arnaud Primary School, St. Arnaud Secondary School and the St. Arnaud Early Childhood Precinct have been actively participating in learning activities and inquiries in relation to nutrition this year. Students across all educational sectors have been learning about the benefits of eating a nutritionally balanced meal, with secondary students more closely examining the cost and recycling benefits of eating a diet rich in fruit and vegetables that come in bulk directly from the growers. Their work culminated in a Nutrition Picnic Day on Wednesday, 18th of October when students, teachers and parents participated in a range of activities including yoga, big board games of checkers, Connect 4, and Jenga along with movement games organised by the team from the Wimmera Regional Sports Assembly. Other activities included competitions, craft making, a photo booth and worm farm provided by the Grampians Central West Water and Resource Recovery Group. All participants went home with a show-bag containing a water bottle supplied by Goulburn Murray Water and a snack box for their sultanas and fruit provided free on the day. Just as organisers had hoped, it was the kind of day that students loved and will remember for a long time to come, ensuring that the message around the importance of good nutrition stays with them into the future.
Likewise, the schools, and the wider community have identified that many of St. Arnaud’s students lack aspiration for their future work and study, and as a result there has been a deliberate approach to reversing this trend by working in partnership with community organisations, clubs, businesses and partnership founders; Helen McPherson-Smith Trust, CEP and the local St. Arnaud schools. A report undertaken during 2012 by the now known Federation University also highlighted the need for the St. Arnaud to explore the area of youth aspirations.
As a result of this discussion, along with student and teacher feedback, the St. Arnaud Alliance has sought to implement a whole of community resilience program. The program will begin in early 2018 and will be facilitated by “The Resilience Project”. As part of the program, students will participate in classroom workshops and associated curriculum materials. Teachers will also undertake professional development to build their understanding of how best to particularly support young people to develop resilience. The program will also target the broader community with a community forum being held in March.
We look forward to updating you on the work of the St. Arnaud community in 2018.