Children living in housing estates close to ACU’s Melbourne Campus attend weekly tutoring thanks to a partnership program coordinated by Mary Campbell. Pre-service primary teachers who volunteer, like Ryan Collins, find it’s not just the kids who are learning
MARY CAMPBELL, Relations Coordinator, Institute for Advancing Community Engagement
“I have been involved in education and social work for the past 30 years, specifically in the areas of disadvantage. I taught children with learning and physical disabilities, managed a women’s house and taught children in East Africa.
After being front line for so long I was worried working at ACU could be a bit of an ivory tower, so it was really refreshing to find the people I was working with at the Institute for Advancing Community Engagement (IACE) really live their mission.
I joined the Atherton Gardens Neighbourhood Advisory Board, which gave me great insight into the needs and voices of the community around ACU’s Melbourne Campus. The homework club was an established program, founded by Sister Rosa and the Vietnamese mothers.
They were going through rapid growth as a new wave of residents moved to the area with the arrival of refugees from the Horn of Africa. This changed the dynamic and needs of the homework club. There weren’t enough volunteers, so working with Sacred Heart Primary School we set up a partnership with the Smith Family and ACU’s Faculty of Education. Together we worked to embed service at the Homework Support Program as a community engagement component for third year teachers in ACU’s Bachelor of Education course.
The program has been running since 2009 in this format, with Dr Anne Scott in education as a key driver. Each year ACU provides 125 pre-service teachers who tutor up to 250 kids – far from that group of 18 who started 10 years ago.
The Homework Support Program is not meant to be a teaching placement – although it can add to your professional experience. Rather it’s about connecting, forming a relationship and understanding each other’s, differences.
Meeting Ryan was like winning lotto. It was obvious to me that he would be a real asset to the IACE team in Melbourne. He has strengthened the program’s relationships and has been able to implement new procedures that have made it a more seamless project.
Ryan is a quiet achiever who is exceptional in everything that he does. It’s a privilege for us to have him. Starting in the position with a student mentality, he has grown to become appreciated by the other partners as a professional and an expert at the program.”
RYAN COLLINS, education student
“I always had teaching in the back of my mind, but didn’t think I would have the confidence to be in front of a group of people all day. After finishing high school I studied business for about a year, but it just wasn’t me.
I took a year off and travelled – working at a kids’ summer camp in the United States. I found it really easy to connect with the kids so when I returned I enrolled in the Bachelor of Education at ACU.
I wanted go to ACU because of its reputation for teaching. My sister had studied here only a few years before me, so I was really excited when I got into the course. As soon as I started I knew I had found what I was searching for.
Mary’s reputation preceded her. I first met her at our induction for the Homework Support Program, but I had heard from other students that she was an amazing person who was totally committed to community engagement.
I didn’t know much about the Homework Support Program and I didn’t feel confident that I had the skills to assist with children from a refugee background, but she spoke about the program so passionately and made me think that it must be a really amazing experience. I started volunteering and soon found that I loved it too.
We have two sites, Atherton Gardens in Fitzroy and the Richmond housing estate. I am ACU’s representative and liaison at the Richmond Tutoring Program, working with the Smith Family and the Vietnamese mothers to run the program.
Once a week, primary school children attend the after-school program. I set the learning agenda for the program and negotiate briefings and debriefing for all the volunteers.
We’re really lucky to have both secondary and university students available to tutor. The program demystifies university for the children in this community. Even though nobody in their family may have had further education, they are not scared of university – in fact they see it very much as a place where they belong.
I soon realised how lucky I was to work alongside Mary. She is one of the greatest role models you could have. She has taught me to always have time for people, no matter how busy you are – Mary can be in the middle of the most important project, but she puts it all down to speak to someone who comes to her office in need.
I have also learnt from her to expect to do the best you can, and always expect the best in others. I have one more year of study before I finish at ACU. My role at IACE has opened up my eyes to the different options for me as a teacher.
I would love to keep working with this community, and I would also like to teach overseas at some stage, in a community where they don’t have the teachers or the resources. I feel my role at IACE has given me the confidence and the skills to go into communities that I wouldn’t have approached before.
I am no longer fearful of communities that are experiencing challenges and disadvantage – instead I’m excited by the possibilities they present. I can see where there is disadvantage there is also the opportunity for growth and I want to be a part of that.“