A core group of staff and a dedicated group of volunteers provide a small group of students with the individual attention and stable environment that they need to reach their goals. With the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reporting that 45,000 young people needed assistance for homelessness in 2013, it is clear that schools like Key College are desperately needed to help homeless youth remove themselves from the cycle of poverty and abuse that traps so many of them.
Key College is situated in an unassuming brick building just around the corner from Redfern Station. I recently spent the day there, observing what a typical day is for a Key College student.
Min Bonwick, the school manager, greeted me at 9.10am and showed me into a large classroom. The walls are covered with student work, world maps, and photos of students on school excursions. Min gets English class started with a small group of young people in attendance. The topic of the day is Ireland, which Min brings to life with comic Irish sayings and a basket of traditional Irish foods. Barry, long-time volunteer and retired schoolteacher, contributes to the discussion and helps to keep the students engaged.
Throughout the day Charis, a psychologist completing an internship with Key College, takes students out to coffee for impromptu counselling sessions.
English class ends and the students break for a “ploughman’s lunch”, consisting of the contents of Min’s traditional Irish food basket. Ben Cook, who runs the school with Min, arrives with a student that he accompanied to a court appearance that morning. Ben kicks off the maths class, and despite a shaky start, the students quickly warm to the task of working through calculating how much salespeople make with different commission rates.
After maths it’s off to the park to meet up with students from other schools to play Oz Tag, a non-tackling version of rugby league. It’s boiling hot, but the students give it their all. One of the referees compliments a Key College student on scoring an impressive try.
In 2012, nine of the 27 students enrolled in Key College gained their School Certificate with some even continuing their studies at TAFE. One former student is currently teaching full-time at a Girls Detention Centre.
The key to Key College’s success is their comprehensive approach to education, their commitment to “wrap-round” support, and their cultivation of a safe learning environment where students feel respected.