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Igniting a passion

Exciting children about learning isn’t always easy.

But, a unique literacy program has ignited the passion of hundreds of students, in a way that has even surprised teachers and parents.

The READ Collaboration, developed by 17 primary and secondary state schools and the BHP Billiton Mitsubishi Alliance (BMA) across the Bowen Basin, is having a big impact in the community.

“We didn’t think we’d see the sort of change we have in just three years,” said Frank Brunetto, Principal of Blackwater State High School.

“As an example, since 2015, when we started the program, we have seen Year 9 students flip from below average in English and NAPLAN writing, reading, grammar and punctuation skills, to above State and National mean levels,” he said.

The need for the program was recognised after a shared strategic planning workshop between the schools, regional education office and key feedback from BMA employees across the training and development and community relations teams.

“Our school leavers were not meeting expectations in terms of passing aptitude tests, resume writing and the job interview skills needed for success in the workforce,” he said.

“For the Blackwater Cluster, to create meaningful change, we had to work from the ground up and so the community, and three local schools; Blackwater State School, Blackwater North State School and Blackwater State High School; jointly developed a literacy program, unlike any other.”

Funded through the BHP Billiton Mitsubishi Alliance (BMA) READ Collaboration, all three schools from preparatory through to year 12 have the same focus on literacy.

“When you mention literacy most people think English,” he said.

“But literacy is about a person's ability to clearly communicate their thoughts, in a written or verbal form.”

“This impacts everything students do, from science to arts or engineering, and so all subjects, in all years, have a literacy focus as part of our plan.”

Thirteen-year-old Cheyenne Hall started the program when she began high school, three years ago.

“They do it in a way that you have interesting options and it is fun,” she said.

“We have had writing carnivals, where students from different age groups get together and focus on narrative or persuasive writing.

“We also do all sorts of games, which are designed to help us find different ways of expressing ourselves and how to use different writing styles to achieve that.”

No matter what school they attend, under the program, every student has a literacy and writing focus and teachers from all schools, primary and high school, gather regularly to establish the cluster’s focus.

“One term, Blackwater State High School might focus on paragraphing and cohesion and every student will be doing that from year 7 to grade 12, in every subject,” said Frank Brunetto.

The program was developed by taking into account existing skill levels and the socio economic background of the children in each school.

Out of this, three different channels were created, but all with the one focus.

“We realised there was never going to be a one size fits all, but we make sure that primary school teachers know what is going on in high schools and vice versa, so we can align the curriculum.

“We looked at programs from around the world and then adapted some elements to create a unique program.”

According to Blackwater State High student Cheyenne, “I was really happy when the program started, because I want to be an author when I grow up, and it has helped me become a better writer.

“I have also learned that unless you enjoy writing, you can't put a lot into it and enjoyment is the best asset you have,” she said.

Frank Brunetto added, “When kids can't write or understand questions, they develop a low level of self-esteem and confidence.

“I think the true success of our community literacy program is our students are more confident about their journey, and we have record attendance rates now.”

“I cannot wait to see the slingshot effect the program will have on the primary school students, as they start to come through to high school after being in the program since they started school.”

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