More Community Engagement Stories

Future in Youth, Milperra State High School, Brisbane

Future in Youth at Milperra State High School, Brisbane, began in 2012 under the guidance of ACU researcher Matthew Pink, building on his experience of community engagement though sport in Timor Leste. Students at Milperra are predominantly from refugee backgrounds and are developing their English language skills prior to integration into mainstream high schools. Three ACU Exercise Science undergraduates, Holly Wescombe, Hannah Jeffs, and Virginia Mitchell engaged with Milperra pupils each week during the school term, offering them a chance to enjoy a break from working on language skills while at the same time finding out about Australian sports.

There were also lessons for the ACU students. "We learnt how important playing sport and participating as part of a group can be … an important means to build communication, trust and teamwork," says Holly. "Sport and physical activity can help build more than just fitness and technical skills." Despite a range of languages and limited English among the pupils, they showed a high level of comprehension. "I was constantly reminded how resilient and talented these children are," Holly adds, "and I have developed a passion for something I thought I might not be interested in."

This engagement also provides a heart-warming story. One female student was very reluctant to join in activities because of cultural expectations about dress and a lack of suitable footwear. The ACU students gently invited her into the space, with little success until she discovered the joy of organized movement and overcame her hesitation. To their delight she arrived one day wearing joggers, and went on to become one of the most active participants in the engagement. Matthew reflects: "If a shared space is gently negotiated within community engagement, showing respect for the individual and a little encouragement, much can be achieved. "

Homework Support and Cricket Program, Western Sydney

Students from ACU's Strathfield campus are making personal connections with a wide variety of young people in their local communities through learning support and sport programs across the cultural, linguistic, religious and social mosaic of western Sydney.  The students are involved in learning support programs with 190 school pupils at eight sites (five in the inner west, two at Blacktown-Mount Druitt, and one in Campbelltown-Macquarie Fields) and in a cricket program that provides healthy exercise and promotes friendships across cultures.

ACU has been providing homework support in the Strathfield area since 2010. A three-way partnership of The Smith Family, Strathfield Council and ACU created the Strathfield Homework Club, particularly for students from a non-English-speaking background, that runs from Strathfield's main library. Since 2010, 20 students from the School of Education have done their community engagement placements at the Homework Club. In mid-2011 there was a change of roles and partnership members, with Metro Migrant Centre joining the group.

In 2012 the program extended into an after-school homework program known as the Special Tutoring Assistance Program in the inner western suburbs at the following schools: Homebush Public School, Homebush West Primary School, Ashfield Primary School and Hampden Park Primary, Lakemba. Twenty ACU students were involved in these schools. What makes the program unusual is that while ACU students work with the children, Metro MRC and Strathfield Council work with their parents. ACU students began working in the program in Week 2 of Term 2 and ended their commitment on November 23. They benefited greatly from their experience, and built strong relationships with the schools and organizations they worked with. Eight ACU students also worked at the Adventist College in Strathfield.

In 2012 ACU entered its third year of partnership with Loyola Senior High at Mt Druitt and Josephite Community Aid at Seven Hills in the Blacktown-Mount Druitt area, and with Guise Primary in the Campbelltown-Macquarie Fields area, and 24 ACU students are involved in tutoring programs facilitated by the schools.

In May 2012 five members of the ACU Cricket Club were involved in providing a free six-week cricket program for over sixty primary school students in the inner west, in a partnership with Cricket Australia, Metro MRC and the Lankan Islanders Cricket Club. The ACU students operated the program of skills development, games and activities under the supervision of the qualified coach, with the aim of engaging primary students from multicultural backgrounds in an international sport that transcends political, cultural and social differences.

Tongan Community Open Day, Sydney

During the past twenty years, the Tongan community within Australia has steadily increased in size and visibility. Tongan people are well known in Australia's sporting arenas, and many are employed in the security industry and in transport and trades by companies such as TNT and the Skilled group. Building on this base, Tongan community leader James Motulalo believes that higher education is now a vital area to be explored in the journey of Tongan advancement in Australia. On November 17, 2012 he welcomed more than forty Tongan families and their friends to an Open Day for the Tongan community at ACU's Strathfield campus.  "In order for us as a group (a minority group) to progress and have a voice," said James, "we must embrace this opportunity afforded to us by ACU."  He came into contact with ACU through an employee studying through the Clemente program, and was attracted by the University's openness to engagement with its local communities.

ACU already has six Tongan students, enrolled in early childhood, primary and  secondary education, and three of them joined community members on the day to tell of their experiences of university study.  These students are pioneering a close relationship between ACU and the Tongan community, and the university has much to learn from them as that relationship develops further. Students who successfully complete the four units of the University's Certificate of Liberal Studies, a non-award accredited tertiary qualification, are eligible for direct entry into tertiary education at ACU.

For potential students like Stan Afeaki, this qualification provides a welcome opportunity: "I have always been afraid of studying at tertiary levels as I have a bad history in school altogether." He has already been studying in applied science, and would like to move into education and research, to have the "comfort that I am changing society for the best… I would really like some information on options I can take at ACU regarding teaching."

James Motulalo thanked ACU staff and Tongan students for providing "an historical Open Day" for the community: "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, and Saturday was that first step. I'm quite sure that university will become another option for us, our children and generations to come …. It has to start somewhere, and we are fortunate to be at the starting point."

Holiday Program Melbourne

The Holiday Program is organised each year by ACU students and managed by the Relations Coordinator for the Institute for Advancing Community Engagement as part of the University's continuous educational involvement with its local community. The program began in 2009 with 60 children, and numbers have grown steadily each year since. On July 11, 2012, 105 children attended, and so did some of their parents. Children are invited from Sacred Heart Primary School and Fitzroy Primary School. The majority of them attend the Homework Support Program at Atherton Gardens and the Richmond Tutoring Program, where ACU Education students regularly work with them. Many are from a refugee background and originate from the Horn of Africa region, and have a history of disrupted schooling. Some of the children show challenging behaviour and have been identified as being at risk of disengaging from school. The Holiday Program brings children and parents and ACU students together at a time when the holidays remove the structure of the school week and allow a time for relaxation and enjoyment in the neighbourhood. The program provides

  • opportunities for all participants (volunteers, children and parents) to relate through meaningful engagement, with a focus on developing language skills through fun activities
  • activities that are socially inclusive and culturally appropriate
  • success-oriented learning activities that build confidence and healthy choices
  • a memorable fun-filled, action-packed day for the children to remember
  • understanding that people from ACU, Atherton Gardens and Richmond are neighbours and have much to learn from each other.

Ranging from 5 to 12 years of age, this year's group of children took part in a jungle-themed day, enjoying activities including a safari treasure hunt, Zumba classes, face-painting and even handling live lizards and other reptiles. "This is my favourite day," says Aleu, one of the children. It was a happy day for one of the parents as well: "When my children go to ACU it's a holiday for me too. Thank you."

There are longer-term benefits. Mary Campbell, Relations Co-ordinator for IACE explains: "Inviting the children to ACU for a day of fun helps to demystify university life for these children. The Holiday Program raises educational aspirations as children begin to see that tertiary education is a reality well within their reach."