An Ilawarra high school is seeing increasing numbers for boys choosing to take part in a mentoring program that teaches them personal accountability.
Seven years ago, the school’s Boys’ Mentor (a newly created role) Andrew Horsley, handpicked who would take part in the 16-week program based on recommendations from the wellness team – made up of year advisors, head teachers and school counsellors.
The program was part of a suite of strategies to improve student behaviour and provided an extension of themes typically covered in Year 7-10 personal development and physical education models such as cyberbullying, being safe online, conflict resolution, healthy relationships, positive relationships, drug use, risk taking.
But it went further. The target group met for an hour a week with youth workers from Top Blokes in groups of 8-10, and after graduating from the program they were given a hoodie.
“If you can put together a good group of young men who feel comfortable with each other, that just leads to a lot of positive outcomes in terms of their learning,” Andrew told Teacher Magazine (ACER) podcast.
“The groups have got just a real bond, or real connection with each other that has come from the program."
Before the trial, Dapto High was pretty traditional in how it dealt with misdemeanours, handing out detentions, double detentions, suspensions. Two things happened that paved the way for change. Top Blokes arrived on the scene with a new program and Dapto got a new principal, Andrew FitzSimons.
“He’s responsible for a lot of the change that’s happened, he’s at the forefront of making sure things work for boys, but also for girls,” says his deputy Daniel Inness.
Uptake for the program doubled in 2019 when 50 kids voluntarily signed up following a presentation at the school by Top Blokes.
“I don’t believe in forcing kids to do welfare programs, because if I was a kid I wouldn’t want someone forcing me to do that,” says Horsley.
“You have to give people responsibility, and young men responsibility. That’s the problem – we expect young men to be responsible, but often we don’t put them in positions of responsibility.”
The impact on the school has been profound, reports Daniel Inness. Quantitively, the school is seeing fewer referrals for misbehaviour.
“The qualitative data is that all these young men, after the program, take responsibility for themselves.
“These are young men who weren’t making very good choices and most times the responsibility that they felt was that it was someone else’s fault when things went wrong.
“After the program the kids say, when you speak to them you say ‘you did this, you made this poor choice in class’ and they say ‘yeah, I got it wrong’ or ‘yeah, I shouldn’t have been doing that, the teacher was right’.
“If those boys are making better choices in classes then that means that there are 24 students who are better off because that young man is participating in the program. And, again, we can’t measure that one but we know that it happens and then classes are calmer and better off because these young men are participating.”
An additional benefit of adopting these strategies is more broadly putting men’s health on the school’s curriculum, so on International Men’s Day last year, Andrew addressed the school assembly on some of the challenges men faced.
“When I send out emails and things like that to staff I always send something out to do with mental health or physical health, just so it’s not just the kids. I see that the more we can do in terms of helping others in our school – a happy teacher teaches in a happy classroom, usually.
“So, if we can take a bit of time to reflect and look after our own health – whether it be mental, physical, social or spiritual – I think the benefits are going to be far-reaching, not only for the teacher but for the student.”
Top Blokes runs a number of programs aimed at improving the development of young male health and well-being, inspiring young males to reach their full potential through peer-inspired environments. Find out more: https://www.topblokes.org.au/
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