Re-engaging students with learning

A global report on education philanthropy suggests employee volunteerism and engaging small, local projects is more important for Australian companies than any other country. Teacher finds out how this approach is helping students at a school in rural Victoria.

In 2003 Baimbridge College, a P-12 coeducational government school in the rural town of Hamilton, introduced the Standing Tall mentoring program for ‘at risk' students.

The successful initiative involves several local businesses and community organisations, and now operates in six schools across the district.

This junior school intervention program recruits and trains mentors from the local community, who make a commitment to meet with students one hour a week, for a minimum of 12 months.

It is based on research that shows a one-on-one relationship with a caring adult can help keep students engaged in school. An evaluation of the impact of the initiative found changes happened in as little as six months, with the most positive outcomes coming after 10 months. Benefits include improved student behaviour and increased engagement in the classroom.

One of the Standing Tall partners is Iluka Resources, a mining and processing company. It gives employees release time to participate as mentors, and provides two members of its executive team to help with the program's governance. This year it is looking at the possibility of expanding its role to include direct financial support.

Scott McQueen is Iluka's General Manager Commercial, Mineral Sands. ‘Historically, Iluka has supported employees in their capacity as Standing Tall mentors by giving them flexibility and time off during the week to participate in mentoring sessions as required,' he tells Teacher.

‘[The company] also now has a formal volunteer leave program where two days annually are allowed (in addition to other leave entitlements) to support community and volunteer programs – of which Standing Tall qualifies.'

With a background in finance and commerce, McQueen is delighted to bring his expertise to the role of Treasurer on the school-based mentoring program's Committee of Management, alongside fellow Iluka executive Tom Blackwell.

‘It involves monthly meetings during the school year,' he says. ‘We provide guidance and support on the running of the program … [we help] with applications for funding and keep track of the finances and plans for the budgets.'

McQueen says the mentoring program supports students, and therefore the local community. 'It's about providing [students] with emotional and real world experience to give them a bit more, I guess, perspective and stability so they can perform better at school. It's another adult to speak to and talk to, to give a different perspective and help give them some guidance in any area of life.'

Standing Tall coordinator Tracey McDonnell is delighted with the professionalism the Iluka executives have brought to the program.

'The strategic plan that Tom [Blackwell] has just driven is water tight.'

The program has relied primarily on a combination of State Government funding and support from a local philanthropist. It is now looking for corporate funding to secure its future beyond 2015.

'We missed out on State Government funding [this time]... which has paid our wages for the last six years,' McDonnell says. 'Currently we have a local philanthropist who provides $30,000 a year to the program, but beyond that we're just living on leftover money and we have 'til the end of this year.'

Is your school partnering with businesses and philanthropic organisations to support students?

Is there a way for your school to make use of the expertise that exists within the local community?

Related Teacher content: LLEAP 2013 Survey Report - The Research Files Episode 2: Philanthropy