Using footy stars to lure islands kids to stay in school

Trial model hailed a success in NSW

What should teachers do with students when suspension and poor report cards fail? Reporting problem kids to their parents may not work because often they are as clueless as the high school teachers in dealing with truancy and unacceptable behaviour, as schools with high Polynesian students intake in Sydney suburbs in the south and west regions have found out. Some schools with headache students have been plagued with such chronic problems for years. But a trial model of giving in to students’ expectations is turning plunders to wonders. Taken on as a challenge, a school principal began luring Polynesian truants back to school— thanks to sweet talk from community elders and professional footballers from Australian rugby league teams. Acting in desperation, Principal Neale Harris of the Georges River College’s Oatley and Peakhurst campuses in Sydney’s south-west took the bull by the horn. He summoned a staff meeting to seek support to change his school’s approach to suspending or failing students who were not attending regular classes. Teachers blamed cultural and language barriers for students becoming disengaged at school. Ethnic Polynesians accounted for 15 percent of its total student numbers and the general consensus among the school teachers was that education was not regarded as a priority with family members of this community. “Many family members never finished high school,” noted Harries.

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