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As we pull into the car park on the banks of the Derwent with postcard river and mountain views, it crosses my mind that in many cities this prime land would boast mansions and millionaires. But it’s not, and it doesn’t. We’ve arrived at the Jordan River Learning Federation Senior School in Bridgewater, a suburb that boasts disadvantage; low levels of literacy, multi-generational unemployment, welfare dependency, crime and teenage pregnancy.
We’re met at the door by Helen Ransom, the school’s Community Engagement Coordinator employed by the Beacon Foundation, and welcomed inside. Straight away, it’s obvious that despite the challenges the school faces (or perhaps because of them), this is a happening place. The school now places a strong emphasis on vocational education and training.
Helen guides us through the corridors past a kid who’s trying to get suspended, to the school’s new beauty salon. Helen talks passionately about how the course provides real pathways to employment through Certificate II Retail Cosmetics.
“What we are doing is providing very practical skills that give the students a sense of what it means and feels like to work,” she says.
“Many of them haven’t experienced that before, they may be the first person in their family’s living history to have a job and earn a wage, so it’s a really big deal for them.
“They are actually learning what it is like to run their own salon, they have a customer base within the school, and staff and students can come in and pay a small fee for a ‘deluxe manicure with shellac!’ This gives the students a sense of pride in their work.”
As we head to the school canteen, students pretend they aren’t desperately butting out cigarettes when they hear Helen approaching. There’s friendly banter and eye contact as they say hi to Helen with a kind of respect I didn’t expect to encounter here.
We arrive at the canteen and because it’s Thursday, we’re met by a group of beaming students in professional kitchen wear. They’ve cooked lunch for the entire school but they’re only too happy to dish up a few extra plates. One of these students is CJ, who’s just landed an Australian School-based Apprenticeship in the kitchens at Wrest Point.
Over roast beef, Helen explains how the kitchen is run. Year 11 & 12 students have the chance to move out of the “home economics” kitchen into the fully equipped commercial kitchen, where once a week, as part of their practical component of their Certificate I Hospitality VET course they prepare lunch for their fellow students.
Everything we’re eating has either been grown on the school farm or donated by local supermarket chains and Foodbank.
Right on cue, the school’s Hospitality Coordinator Scott Hutchison appears with dessert.
The JRLF Paddock to Plate program is Scott’s brainchild, driven by his desire to create generational change in the perception, consumption and use of food.
“We have been astounded by the buy-in from the students,” he says.
“We’re confident that the gains we have made will not only improve the culture at JRLF, but in the broader community that we serve.
“We’re currently focussing on gaining access to essential components for the project’s sustainability. For example, flour, sugar, pasta, butter, and oil, among other staples, can’t yet be grown on the farm. We also need to be able to provide feed for the animals were are raising, butchering, cooking and eating.
“The next stage of the project is to provide four traineeships on site – two in hospitality and two in horticulture/agriculture, and we are ramping up the Paddock to Plate program to run daily,” he says.
Scott’s work with the Paddock to Plate program is a strong example of how meaningful accredited vocational training can facilitate extraordinary student and community outcomes. The program has traction and is now emerging as a significant national education story.
As quickly as he arrived, Scott disappears to break down a cow that’s been slaughtered from the farm. It really is Paddock to Plate and nothing is wasted here.
With full stomachs we leave via the kitchen where Scott and his team of students are cleaning up. This particular group of students is asked if they’d be at school today if it weren’t for the cooking class. It’s a resounding “no”.
We wave goodbye to CJ and let him know we’ll see him at his new job.
What’s obvious as Helen sends us off with branded coffee mugs emblazoned with “I ♥ making it happen” is that these people really are making a difference and they’re giving it all they’ve got.
Wrest Point is a proud supporter of the JRLF Paddock to Plate program and workplace sponsor of CJ.
Can you help?
To achieve the ultimate success of a fully functioning, ongoing program, JRLF will require the support and generosity of businesses who share their vision of eating well to live well. The school needs supporters to help make a very real difference to lives of some of the most disadvantaged young Tasmanians. If you’d like to be involved, or to book a personalised tour of the school, contact Helen Ransom, Community Engagement Coordinator, on email@example.com