by Michelle Newton
The YWCA is measuring the impact that positive role models have on underprivileged children and their community at an important stage in the children’s lives.
At Plunkett Street Public School in Woolloomooloo, the YWCA runs a program called ‘In School Mentoring’, which matches adults with students in Years 5 and 6.
This is a critical time for any child – on the cusp on their teenage years, puberty, and about to start high school. For these children, add to that the complications of living in a disadvantaged area, with high levels of crime and issues with mental health, drugs and alcohol. These children often have few positive role models.
School principal Elizabeth McGlynn is impressed with the program. “Every time I see the group, the children are interacting positively with adults,” she says. “Often these children find it difficult to have a meaningful conversation with adults because they find they are in trouble or doing something wrong. The whole notion of a great role model is someone who is not going to be critical of them.”
The program is also having a positive effect on the children’s school work. According to Elizabeth McGlynn, the students are producing sophisticated work that, she says, demonstrates they are enjoying what they are doing.
Some of the children in the group have had a rough couple of months ¬– one child lost his dad; others have been removed from their family homes.
Alissa McCann, who is a teacher at the school, says, “Change is a daily occurrence in these kids’ lives. Hourly sometimes.” She says they love the program and look forward to it, so much so that one of the girls, Jessica, 10, waits for her mentor at the school gate and escorts her into the school grounds.
Mercedes, 8, also loves the program. “It’s fun. I make stuff.” Richard, 10, said the mentors are good people and he appreciates the help and friendship.
Plunkett Street School has just 69 students from pre-school to Year 6, with 35 per cent coming from non-English speaking backgrounds and about 35 per cent from Indigenous backgrounds..
The YWCA chooses schools for its mentoring program based on the New South Wales State Government’s Priority Schools Program. The program is also run at Bourke Street Public School in Surry Hills. There are also plans to introduce it to others in the Priority Schools Program.