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By Neville Passmore

Pinjarra Senior High School has just been awarded a $30,000 prize for their FLEEC program (Flexible Learning Education and Engagement Centre) from the NAB Schools First Awards. These awards aim to foster effective partnerships between schools and the communities in which they live. Research has shown the closer the links the better educational outcomes and levels of self esteem for students.

Darryl Spargo, teacher and mentor to a year 11 and 12 group of students who were under performing academically, had low attendance rates, showed poor behaviour, and low self esteem, and were leaving school with limited job prospects, helped foster a commercial partnership to create opportunities for hands on learning. C-Wise, a local compost production business, is a strong advocate for businesses ‘giving back’ something to the community they operate in and were happy to work with Pinjarra SHS to develop a worthwhile program of activities.

The FLEEC program was set up to allow students to get involved with the very practical requirements such as the provision of fencing, sheep and cattle care, wetland regeneration, tree growing and planting. The farm surrounding the compost production facility provides an outdoor school setting for skills to be taught in a 'real world' location. A formal curriculum has been developed with input from another partner, Challenger Institute of Technology, which allows students to achieve TAFE certification in a variety of areas through their work on the Nambeelup property.

Students engage in activities such as welding yards, constructing concrete floors, using hand tools in the garden, learning to drive tractors and other farm machinery, studying plants and animals, biodiversity, and the environment. Just as important are the life skills learnt by seeing how people behave and work as a team in the real world. New career pathways have been created, attendance has improved and students have shown increased self-esteem as they become more knowledgeable about their environment and acquire important life and work skills.

Winning the award will make it possible to progress further into tree growing and farm planting work through the purchase of a tractor with a deep ripper and mounding equipment. Experience has shown that when seedling trees are planted in a deep ripped groove on top of a mound the chances of survival increase dramatically. The plant roots have easy access to the soil and the mounding keeps it from being waterlogged in the first winter while establishing themselves.

The wetlands, and the birdlife that is attracted to them, on the Nambeelup property, will also benefit. Nesting boxes will be attached to trees for the visiting migratory and local birds. One hundred and eight species of birds have been counted on the property that has become a safe haven. There are natural wetlands as well as treatment ponds on the property, which create habitats attractive to various birds. Hides will be constructed with some of the award funds to allow observation of the many species that have made Nambeelup their home.

Darryl Spargo has a talent for stretching dollars 'to the max', so the list of projects he is aiming to fund from the award monies is nothing short of breathtaking.

What the judges said: A truly collaborative partnership where the school and the partner rely on each other’s expertise to make positive things happen for the students.