Alternative education with a well-being focus- A chat with Stella

Differences between mainstream and alternative education; a well-being focus.

This is an edited transcript of an interview our Social Media Volunteer, Kyle, completed with his school Well-Being Leader, Stella. Kyle attends Hestor Hornbrook, an education setting that achieves a positive balance between a student’s educational and mental well-being needs. Stella and Kyle chat about the differences between mainstream and alternative education settings and Stella’s role as Mental Well-being Team Leader. Big thanks to both Stella and Kyle for sharing this with us.

Who are you and what is your role at Hester Hornbook?

Rebecca Stella is the Well-Being Team Leader at Hester Hornbrook Academy. The Hester Hornbrook classroom is that of 1 Educator and 1 Youth Worker to approximately 12 students. Stella’s role is to coordinate the Classroom Youth Workers and oversee that student well-being needs are being supported. Stella provides supervisory support to the Youth Workers about well-being issues and certain crisis intervention strategies. In addition, Stella ensures she forms personalised relationships with students and is available to talk and provide support directly.

Why did you choose to move into the Mental Health field of work?

Stella started her career at the City of Port Phillip however she quickly saw this line of work wasn’t for her. She has experience working with young people with disabilities through the Joint Councils Access for All Abilities (JCAAA) program. There Stella found her passion for working with young people.

Stella grew up with 8 siblings so working with young people seemed to come naturally to her. Soon after her work with JCAAA Stella completed her Youth Work Degree and decided this was the field she wanted to continue in. With her degree under her belt she linked in with St.Kilda Youth Services; an organisation who offers education for high risk young people. Through her work at St.Kilda Youth Services Stella’s passion for working with young people further increased. She saw first hand how young peoples’ experiences of mental health problems was impacting their educational options. Supporting students to manage mental health challenges first, helped them with school engagement, continuing their education and achieving their education goals. Stella found, and continues to find, great satisfaction in working with kids. She enjoys helping them realise their potential and watching them develop in their journey. Stella especially loves seeing the students with mental health obstacles find themselves.

 

Rebecca Stella-Well-being Coordinator at Hestor Hornbrook Academy

What is alternative education in comparison to ‘mainstream education’ and what are the benefits?

The main difference between Hester Hornbrook and mainstream education is the unique balance and prioritisation of supporting both student well-being and education. When getting to know young people who want to be a part of Hestor Hornbrook it is not simply about academic achievements and goals, it is about all aspects of a young person’s life. Hester Hornbrook looks to push young people to strive for their greatest educational potential, whilst also acknowledging a lot of young people have massive barriers to actually accessing that education. These barriers often lie within mental health, disability and/or other external challenges in a young person’s life, such as drug and alcohol challenges and trauma. Stella also reports Hester Hornbrook works really hard to build relationships with students on a more personal level; understanding problems that occur outside of academia.

In the future do you see alternative education becoming the normality?

Yes, more and more so. Because of recent events with COVID-19 community are beginning to understand that education can’t be delivered simply as a one dimensional program. Delivering only the academic side of the curriculum, as remote learning has done, has proved to have some negative effects on young people’s mental health. It has truly shown that well-being is an integral part of education and the development of young people. Alternative education often allows young people to open up more about their obstacles because of the personal relationship students share with educators. By making alternative education more accessible and known, it will allow more young people who may be suffering with mental health challenges to speak out and open up to their educators.

What do you say to those people who say that alternative education doesn’t provide as thorough a curriculum as mainstream schools?

Hester Hornbrook truly does attempt to provide the best possible education, starting with the great and professional educators who often have worked in a mainstream setting before and who have a great deal of experience.  Combining that experience with the well-being focus of Hestor helps young people who had not been engaging in mainstream education to still gain a high quality education. Hestor Hornbrook is able to provide education specific to a student’s needs, based on the level they are at. This structure is accompanied by a flexible mode of study that allows them to move at a pace they are comfortable with; something mainstream education struggles to provide in keeping a steady pace for the general population.

What resources do alternative education providers provide that mainstream education providers don’t give?

Post care is probably the greatest asset Hester Hornbrook provides in terms of additional resources. Hester Hornbrook has a 12 month period after a young person graduates where an Alumni worker supports that young person in all their well-being needs.  During that time there is also a Careers worker who consistently supports the young people to find a path beyond Hester Hornbrook. Generally students who are preparing to leave are identified about 6 months ahead of time. In that period the school works extremely hard in supporting the young person to achieve the goals they have set. This can include other pathways in the Hestor program and opportunities for scholarships that can help in overcoming barriers.

What is the most challenging part of your role at the school?

The dynamics of classrooms can be quite challenging. Having a group of people, who outside the classroom would have potentially never met, all together in one place and ensuring everyone’s safety and comfort, takes good planning and management. However, this is something Hester Hornbrook manages really well and is able to instil this sense of respect amongst all the students. Everyone at the school knows they are there for their own reasons and that knowledge really creates an environment of understanding and little judgement. Another challenging thing of course is letting go of our students after they graduate and having to say goodbye. That bitter sweet moment of seeing a young person who you have worked so hard and closely with mature into the person they are when they graduate. You just hope you have done enough to really help them out of the circumstances they were in when they first came to the school.

Comparing to mainstream how is diversity within alternative education and how does it work?

In the alternative education environment there are so many different kinds of people coming from all different kinds of circumstances and walks of life. It really gives students, especially those who have come from mainstream education, a chance to operate in an environment free of the stress of being ‘cool’ and having to impress people. Hester Hornbrook truly does its best to actually break down barriers between social groups and provide a place where worrying about all that kind of social standing really doesn’t apply that much at all. Social standing is definitely a factor for a lot of our students who have come from mainstream education. It prevented them from being able to continue in an environment like a secondary school where social standing is something that a lot of importance is placed upon.

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