Education and Arts

ACU students return from trip of a lifetime

Ten ACU students recently returned from an experience of a lifetime; as part of their course, they travelled to the Solomon Islands to teach primary school students for five weeks at Bishop Epalle Catholic School, Honiara.

Of the ten lucky students, five were from the Ballarat Campus studying a Bachelor of Education (Primary). This unique opportunity was part of ACU's alternative placement program available to  third-year teaching students. Jacob Torpey and Celeste Benoit were elated to make it through the intensive selection process to be selected for the program. Celeste said that each student wrote an application addressing a range of criteria and then attended an interview for final selection. "It was amazing to be able to do something so different, an experience I will never get to do again. We all felt very humbled for the opportunity to go on this experience and it was an honour to be selected to go," she said.

Neither student had ever travelled outside of Australia, so to be chosen was very special. Jacob said  that it was a really big privilege to be accepted, and was a little overwhelming at the same time.  Jacob and Celeste taught classes of around thirty four students in grade four about maths, religion,  social studies, English and Australian history. "English was such an interesting subject to teach in the Solomon Islands with so many differences and so little resources. English is their third language after their mother tongue and Pidgin; we learnt a lot of their language along the way," said Celeste. "Teaching the students about Australian history was also a great experience, as they generally know very stereotypical things about Australia, so giving them more detailed information was beneficial," said Jacob.

While in the Solomon Islands, the ACU students integrated with the locals and really felt part of their community. Celeste learnt about the differences in culture and said that Islanders are so friendly and always went out of their way to say hello and greet her at every opportunity. "I also learnt that people with nothing are generally the most happy and friendly, it also made me think about myself more and made me a much more humble person," she said.

There were many highlights to the trip. One that stood out for Celeste was articipating in the schools choir where they performed at the school graduation, singing and dancing a local Fijian dance called the Meke.

As a teacher I learnt more about my capabilities, it was a real confidence boost as I had to learn how to teach and engage with students with literally no resources.

I also learnt how to think on my feet and employed different mechanisms to engage with extremely shy and reserved students," said Jacob.

This experience has transformed both students and has given Celeste some direction about what she wants to do after graduation. "I want to teach somewhere different, which I had no idea about before  this placement. I'd like to possibly teach in Aboriginal communities in Darwin or go back to the Solomon Islands," she said. Celeste is currently linked to do volunteering in Ballarat through Challenge - Cops N Kids, supporting kids with cancer. "After my Solomons experience, I now know that I want to do more volunteering in Ballarat, and particularly want to get involved in the Big Brother  Big Sister program that helps and mentors young people facing adversity."

"I would love to go back to the Solomon Islands one day and introduce a similar program that would help and mentor young children through their schooling and life in general."ACU Ballarat offers the  opportunity to become qualified to teach at an early childhood setting or at primary school level; the Bachelor of Education (Early Childhood and Primary) and Bachelor of Education (Primary) are available for a February intake.

As a part of ACU's alternative placement program, pre-service teachers are challenged to work with  infrastructure and limited teaching resources; they learn to think creatively and develop an engaging curriculum using the available resources. ACU is the largest education provider of teachers in the country and is the only truly national university with seven campuses in Adelaide, Ballarat, Brisbane,  Canberra, Melbourne, North Sydney and Strathfield.

This article first appeared in Catholic Diocese of Ballarat newsletter.