Going with the FLO and thriving

The teaching staff at Swan Hill College were never going to let a return to remote and flexible learning curtail the support they provide vulnerable students.

The college of 750 students and about 55 teaching staff is particularly proud of how its FLO (Flexible Learning Options) program, established in 2013, has continued to support students at risk of disengaging from education.

The FLO program operates as part of Swan Hill College but at a different campus site four kilometres away. Its 40 students range from years 8 to 12. All students in years 10 to 12 undertake the Victorian Certificate of Applied Learning (VCAL) program, with all assigned one Vocational Education and Training (VET) subject.

Remote and flexible learning has presented challenges, but college principal Andrew Sartori and FLO campus manager Gabe Mudge have been delighted with how their staff have stepped up.

'Our FLO kids are some of our most vulnerable students, but the staff have gone above and beyond to make sure that the students and their families have access to internal and external supports,' Andrew said.

Gabe said each FLO student had an individual learning plan and usually attended classes at different points, 'depending on what's happening in their lives at the time'.

The school also utilises the Murray Mallee Local Learning and Employment Network's (MMLLEN) Navigator program, which supports students in re-engaging with education through intensive case management, including home visits and helping them get to campus when needed.

During remote and flexible learning, case managers have continued to keep at-risk students engaged.

Mentors and relationships

Gabe said FLO youth worker Maddie Hellings and parent and community engagement officer Jo Taverna have a strong relationship with families and carers, and mentor teachers Michelle Sutcliffe, Tom Mitchell, Julie Rovere and Tim Gammon keep in regular contact with students remotely, using Google Classrooms and Google Meet.

'We hold online wellness sessions that have a specific focus each week, and we're really doing a lot of things around how to motivate students and to help them stay connected with their peers,' she said.

The online wellness sessions are followed by a dance lesson headed by Jade Hunter, who takes students through a different routine each session.

'The kids can choose not to be seen – they can keep their cameras off.,' Gabe said.

'It's something the kids have enjoyed – some kids do it some weeks, some occasionally, some all the time.'

'It is part of 'active afternoons' on Wednesdays. When on site, they have a healthy lunch and wellness sessions. During remote learning, we roll it all into one.'

Staying connected

The college has about 70 Aboriginal students across both campuses, with most of the boys participating in the Clontarf Foundation program, which focuses on engagement education, leadership, employment, healthy lifestyles, life skills and football.

The FLO program also continues to tap into vital community organisations such as Mallee Family Care and the Mallee District Aboriginal Services.

'Remotely, we're working really hard with our families to stay connected with their external groups. We're also an ear for parents having stressful times,' Gabe said.

'I'm really proud of the extra mile our staff are going to ensure students have the strong connections they need.'