Nerang Reading Project

NERANG State High School is combating declining literacy skills with the support of community volunteers who have a passion for youth.

After identifying poor literacy skills of commencing grade 7 students, Nerang State High teachers called upon the Gold Coast community, local universities and TAFE to aid in the development of a targeted literacy program called the Nerang Reading Project.

Since 2013 the community program has gone from strength to strength and aims to improve the academic ability, self-confidence and life chances of students with learning difficulties.

The Griffith University Community Internship program, a national award winning, credited multidisciplinary work integrated learning subject, is a major partner with the program.

Undergraduate students with a need for work experience from a variety of fields including education, human services, psychology and criminology have volunteered over 1 200 hours to intensive ‘success maker’ literacy classes and one-on-one support in classrooms with higher needs.

Nerang Reading Project volunteer coordinator Jocelyn Bourke said the program was vital to ensure all students had an opportunity to succeed.

“The Nerang Reading Project is mutually beneficial,” Ms Bourke said.

“The project has provided real-world experience to students and invaluable support to teachers and students in need.

“The Griffith University students have brought skill, enthusiasm, dedication and care to the role and our students.

“If these people are the young people coming through, I feel very satisfied the world is in good hands.”

Gabrielle Tatt is the first student from a Bachelor of Child and Family Studies to complete her placement at the Nerang Reading Project.

Gabrielle Tatt said the experience at Nerang State High was eye-opening and rewarding.

“For the last three weeks I have been going into classrooms and helping kids with literacy and other additional support," she said.

“It has been a great project to able to get hands on experience with children with learning disabilities and those who have experienced trauma.

“So far I have been able to put my textbook knowledge into practice.”

Nerang State High grade 7 teacher Kerri-Ann Condrin said when you had 25-30 students in a class it was hard to provide extra attention to students who require assistance with literacy, staying on task, and following directions.

“Students with learning disabilities or those who are struggling with literacy want to do well, but they lack basic skills and need additional support,” Ms Condrin said.

“Encouragement and having someone sit next to them and actually help them it is just the best thing in the world. They are passing and they are so proud of themselves.

“The more people we can have next to kids helping them the more helpful it is going to be.”

The Hopkins Centre deputy research director David Trembath said the effects of untreated learning disabilities went beyond the obvious lack of academic performance and one-on-one support is ideal.

“Learning difficulties will affect a student’s confidence, their engagement in the classroom with peers, and relationships,” he said.

“It has a cascading effect where challenges accumulate over time and to longer term disadvantage.

“The Nerang Reading Project showcases the value of universities and schools working together, to support students at all levels learn from one another together.”

Bachelor of Psychological Science and Criminology student Samapda Pathak love of volunteering at Nerang Reading Project originated  from a place of understanding.

“I love helping the kids at the Nerang Reading Project, as I had dyslexia growing up,” she said.

“Dyslexia does not have to be a label and it does not have to define you.

“You can work through it and I am living proof.”

Psychology student and aspiring teacher Adam Mills said volunteering with the organisation was fulfilling and had given him valuable work experience.

“Being able to witness and work with a student even towards the smallest of achievements has been very rewarding,” Mr Mills said.

“The project has confirmed by thinking regarding my career and thus has given me great work experience in the classroom.

“The teaching staff I have worked with have been inviting and nurturing and I wish to continue volunteering for as long as I can.”

The Griffith University Community Internship program has provided 150 000 volunteer hours to a diverse range of community organisations since 2012, including aged care facilities, schools, rehabilitation centres, and youth services.

Griffith University Service Learning partnership officer Christine Williamson said it was great the volunteering program, which is a higher education PIEoneer state award winner and finalist, provided 891 local and global volunteer opportunities and support to the community.

“Our partner organisations are often under resourced and benefit from the help of skilled and interested students without having to access additional funding, which is great,” she said.

“At Nerang State High School community interns are enabling teachers to keep up with the curriculum and allow students with higher needs to thrive and succeed.”

Bachelor of Counselling student Larissa Watter recommended other university students to volunteer at the Nerang Reading Project.

“If you are interested in working with children in the future, the Nerang Reading Project is a great experience,” Ms Watter said.

“You do not observe; you are on the front line and doing so much.”

The Australian Bureau of Statistics tabulates 46 per cent of the adult population have only basic literacy skills, and many children are moving through schooling with a reading ability below the national average.

Jocelyn encouraged other schools in Australia to adopt a similar initiative to ensure Australian students, had a bright and successful future.

Head to Nerang Reading Project for more information on how to get involved.

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