I came across Jake already a long way into his story.
Like many of the young people I was working with, Jake had "switched off" to learning.
Years of verbal and physical abuse had taken its toll and now each day was a struggle. The so-called 'normal' challenges of school life had drained what was left from Jake's emotional tank.
Now there was nothing left.
He didn't so much 'refuse' to go to school as the wellbeing team and authorities put it, more like he ran out of energy to make it happen. Interviews with detectives reliving past traumas, self-medicating with late-night video games and you-tube and the gradual realisation that the more he stayed away, the more he didn't feel anything important was missing were all factors that stacked up and delivered the undeniable conclusion - that it was just easier to stay in bed!
There were no real negative consequences for missing school. At least not yet.
The school counsellors and teachers told that familiar story of a vague, distant future - that one that is full of opportunity and possibility - the pot of gold at the end of the proverbial school-rainbow, but for now this had little bearing on Jake. He craved comfort. Just another hour - which turned into 2 - which turned into 3 - then into days - then into weeks...
By the time Jake arrived with an anxious Mum at the Learning Centre to see me in mid 2015, he had an attendance rate close to zero for the first few terms of year 10.
Mum was clearly nervous.
Phrases like "last chance" and "this important year" were being thrown around but it was pretty clear to see Jake was in the drivers seat. I took him for a tour of our facility.
Jake liked it. I could tell. But I knew that wouldn't be enough.
Every meeting and discussion that Jake had had with the wellbeing team and the Learning Support Teachers up to this point had the schools agenda at its core. Compliance.
For them a successful outcome would be when Jake complied with school/state/societies expectations of him and he participated in school. The assumption that is made within this intent is that:
School = good, because...
School = education
Education = opportunity
Opportunity = chance of a happy future
When you rely on these assumptions, its easy to expect compliance because the school has your best interests at heart, but because of these assumptions, the conversation never makes its way around to 'choice' - it gets stuck at compliance.
Jake needed a different conversation.
"Jake, let me show you what we do here and YOU can see if its right for you."
(Then mum chips in squeezing her hands... "Because you have to DO something Jake! You can't just sit around all day. Where do you think that's going to get you?"
"Maybe let's go for a walk. Mum, why don't you wait here for a bit while I chat with Jake?"
Jake, here at the Hub we do Project Based Learning instead of Subject Based Learning. What that means is, you pick a topic area, something you really enjoy (we'll help you if you get stuck with that process) and we map the curriculum to that topic. We'll still ask you to do study tasks, but all those study tasks will be based around YOUR interest area. How does that sound?
"Well" thought Jake "I've actually been thinking about starting a You Tube Channel, but I probably couldn't do that could I?
"Sure you could."
"Hmm" Jake thought. I could tell he was genuinely interested.
"How about this?" I said. "You come here for 3 days. You work on your interest based project for 3 days. After the first few weeks I will find you a workplace that is interested in your skills as a video-editor. You will do Thursdays - at least a few hours in a workplace."
"What about Friday?"
"Well, I paused (and checked the LST wasn't paying attention) you can have Fridays off."
Jake's eyebrows raised. This was new!
"IF" I continued, you come and get work done those other 4 days. If not, then you owe me Friday - but that's no more than the school is already telling you you have to do anyway. Right?
"Hmmm" Jake said again, trying to hold back a smile. It was clear that he was in bargaining mode and trying to hold his poker-face - but also clear that he knew he had a good offer on the table.
"Anyway", I said, "have a think about it, talk to your mum about it (maybe don't mention the Fridays off just yet) and let me know next week because we've got another boy coming in to take a look and he might want the position - but if you want it, just let me know before Monday."
"You know what Sir?" said Jake grandly, "I think you might just have yourself a new student!"
Jake attended the Project Based Learning program and his attendance went from close to 0% attendance in semester 1 to almost 80% in semester 2. He was an active participant in the mindset training sessions and presented 2 detailed projects. Despite our agreement Jake ended up coming to a lot of Fridays to participate in our Masterchef challenge each week.
Jake has since returned to mainstream school, completed his HSC, was given the title 'Minister for Aboriginal Affairs' and became an ambassador for the Clontarf Foundation. He went on an Ambassadors program to Alice Springs visiting some of the more disadvantaged schools in that area and came back with a passion to change educational outcomes for other Aboriginal students. He joined my Young Entrepreneurs program at the Community College and started a charity to combine surfing with raising awareness for the plight of indigenous Australians. He has been invited on another Ambassadors tour to learn more about traditional Maori culture in New Zealand.