Belmont Alternative Learning Centre
The Belmont ALC was an alternative education project that ran over 3 years in the Belmont area in Western Australia, beginning in 2008. It was an innovative collaboration between the local government secondary school and the City of Belmont, and provided students with academic support, work experience, practical skills, recreational opportunities and pastoral support over their time with the project.
The project employed a teacher, a youth worker and social worker, and had between 10 and 20 students enrolled at any one time over its years of operation.
The students who enrolled in the program had generally not attended secondary school for some time, faced a variety of complex family and social issues, and had a history of poor achievement at school. Some have had contact with the state justice system and with other human services in the area. This is not to say though that these are students without strengths. They also brought with them many valuable life experiences, individual skills in music, sport and other fields of interest, and their own valid understandings of relationships and education.
One thing the Belmont ALC was able to do was to remove barriers to educational opportunity. It removed them for young people who had found it hard to overcome a variety of obstacles – things like family difficulties, poor attendance, being easily distracted, or finding it hard to keep up academically. Sometimes these were barriers over which these young people had no control, sometimes they were barriers brought on by their own behaviour. Whatever the source, they were barriers that needed taking down with some else’s help. The ALC project became that help – whether through being listeners in times of family trouble, staff organising referrals to outside agencies, mentoring young people through work placements, or providing ongoing educational support. The ALC helped clear a path towards a different future.
There were many challenging and memorable moments for ALC students and staff, and the end of year graduations were often a highlight. It was notable at these events that quite a number of the young men and women lingered, along with their families. They were not sure it seemed, that they really wanted to go. In the ensuing weeks, some of them returned to get some help and advice – to revisit a place they felt at home. It is the establishment of an education centre that engenders that kind of belonging that is perhaps one of the greatest achievement of the ALC.
This is a research paper presented at the British Education Research Association conference in 2009, which draws on some of the initial research done in the preparation of the ALC project as well as some of its initial evaluation.