Posted by & filed under City News, Inner West Independent.

It’s not in every classroom that students listen to the voice of late New York rap artist, Notorious BIG. But this isn’t every classroom. At the Glebe Youth Service (GYS), school has taken a new direction.

A new education program, known as The Pathways Project, commenced at the GYS in late October. The project is unique in that it tailors an individual curriculum for each student, based on the student’s passions and interests.

“[For example], if the person is interested in cars, they will learn how to do a wheel alignment in a garage and then come to the classroom and learn the trigonometry behind it,” said Keiran Kevans from the GYS.

The project provides youths in Glebe, aged between 12 and 18, a chance to continue their schooling. Students will be helped back into the education system and guided toward HSC, TAFE, internships or vocational training.

“It is targeted at those who have disengaged from continual schooling for whatever reason – we have some students that have not been in a classroom for one or two years,” Kevans said. He added traditional schooling is not always suitable for youths in Glebe, and educators need to provide a radical and dynamic approach to get students re-engaged with education.

One of the project’s designers, Dr Deb Hayes from the University of Sydney, said Glebe’s youths are being given a new education experience.

“It was recognised that we needed to offer something other than what we know schools to be,” Hayes says.

Balmain MP Verity Firth confirmed earlier this year that the Ministry for Education and Training would fund The Pathways Project for three years.

Kevans believes that with secure funding, the project is likely to succeed where past education programs have failed. “The outcomes of previous education programs have been traditionally poor – a bit ad hoc, with inadequate resources and funding,” he said.

While Glebe is renowned for latte art, trendy coffee houses and bohemian baristas, the inner-west suburb is also home to a strong Indigenous community, many living in public housing.

Most of the students enrolled in The Pathways Project are Indigenous youths local to Glebe. The GYS provides a safe classroom environment and lunch for the students. Kevans said students feel a sense of ownership of the area, and prefer going to school in Glebe rather than in nearby Leichhardt or Balmain.

The program has been successful so far, with a full capacity of 16 students enrolled and attending daily. According to Kevans, the positive reaction from students is the result of a positive peer culture, as students get excited about having an important role in curriculum design.

The project, a pilot program in Sydney, is based on the US Big Picture Education principles. It is a collaborative project that involves the NSW Ministry of Education and Training, the University of Sydney and Sydney Secondary College.

Kevans and Hayes have both been surprised at how well the project has been accepted by the community.

Dr Hayes said the program gives the University of Sydney Education Faculty a rare opportunity to engage with the community.

“We are in there with our sleeves rolled up. This is where rubber hits the road with education theory,” she said.

Education has long been considered crucial in breaking the cycle of disadvantage, by providing individuals with the opportunities to succeed.

Indigenous academics, retired educators and the Glebe Aboriginal liaison officer are also involved in the program.

“To have choice and to engage the power of choice you need capabilities,” Cape York Aboriginal leader Noel Pearson said in his opening address to the Brisbane Writers Festival on September 16. “You can have a school, but if your mother does not take responsibility for sending you there, then you’re not going to develop a capability. Somebody has to take responsibility.”

The Pathways Project may give inner-west youths the capabilities to not only forge their own curriculum, but their own futures too.

by Edward White