Expansion dreams are a reality for Warrnambool’s Standing Tall program, and former teen participants say they couldn’t be happier.
The mentoring program is expanding into Emmanuel College and Warrnambool Special Developmental School later this year and Brauer College students Horizon Moore and Sharna Rogers-Brigden say the growth is a positive step.
“It’s great more schools are stepping up to the plate,” Sharna said.
“It’s such a great opportunity and all schools deserve to have a taste of what Standing Tall has to offer. I wanted to leave school when I first started in Standing Tall, I wouldn’t still be here if it wasn’t for my mentor.”
Students aged 12-15 at risk of disengaging from school are mentored by volunteers under the program.
The program that began at Warrnambool and Brauer colleges in 2010 has 175 students and will welcome up to 20 new mentors and youngsters next term.
Volunteer adult mentors, who complete a training program, spend about an hour each week with their pupils for two years to develop trust and support.
While their activities vary, both Sharna and Horizon say the program has changed the direction their schooling was taking.
The 16 year-old was at risk of leaving school two years ago.
“I almost dropped out of school in Year 9,” she said. “I wasn’t attending school for three months and Kelly (mentor) and Matty (Stewart – program coordinator) said “look, you need to stay in school and it was a wake-up call and it refocused me.”
Sharna said her 40-minute sessions with her mentor included sharing craft activities, cooking, baking and board games.
“It’s more than just a classroom, my mentor is like family. If I need advice or support she’s just a phone call away.”
The bright teenager, now a peer leader in her school, said the program offered hope for students who may feel they lack in emotional support.
“Standing Tall is supporting kids who probably don’t have the support or aren’t strong enough to look for it.
“And if you’re willing to open up, these mentors have got your back.”
A sense of connectedness was also a major draw-card for the graduates.
“Meeting others kids and spending time with the other kids in the program is really awesome too,” Sharna said. “It’s reassuring that you’re not alone. No matter how many kids are at this school you are a part of something special.”
For 17 year-old Horizon ‘Standing Tall’ can be summed up in five words; “Biggest confidence boost for sure.”
The Year 11 student started in the program three years ago, at the start of Year 8.
The shy teenager said he had initially struggled to converse with peers and adults.
“My mentor gave me confidence to be able to speak to people,” he said. “I could just talk freely and that’s what I’ve loved.
“I couldn’t talk in front two people before, now I can speak in front of groups if I need to.”
Horizon said his mentor has inadvertently assisted in problem-solving during their sessions.
“He helped me out so much. I could take problems to him and he would help me work them out by just talking to me.”
Both Sharna and Horizon said their future included plans to offer their assistance as mentors within the program.
“I’ve said from the beginning I really want to give back,” Sharna said. “I feel like I’ve taken so much.
“Me being thankful I don’t think is enough to put into words so I want to give my time and help someone make the change that Kelly made for me.”