When Susan Bollard took the job as co-ordinator for Victorian Certificate of Applied Learning (VCAL) students at Monterey Secondary College in Frankston North two years ago, her principal gave her a simple instruction: “Show them the world”.
Monterey is in The Pines, a patch of former Housing Commission homes landlocked between beach and bush 38 kilometres south-east of Melbourne. It is one of the most disadvantaged postcodes in Victoria and traditionally many of its young people have suffered from lack of confidence and low expectations.
But in one of her first steps in broadening their horizons, Susan had only to look over the school fence – and show them the flora and fauna reserve next door and the opportunities within it.
Quickly she was having a coffee with Bill Mallinson, Parks Victoria ranger in charge south-eastern area, and they devised a curriculum to take Year 11 and 12 VCAL students into the reserve to work alongside the rangers.
They adopted a two-hectare patch of shrubland, cleared out invasive plants and replaced them with indigenous varieties, installed night-vision cameras to monitor wildlife, and checked the reserve for bushfire risk using fuel moisture meters and even checking the bark on individual trees to determine fuel load.
The fire prevention aspect of the work was mirrored by another program, with fire-fighting educators from Magenta Safety Training teaching the students all aspects of fire safety and readiness.
“They learned about what happens if you’re in a car accident and power lines fall, how to evacuate the vehicle, how to make the area safe. Other times they did structure fires and how they start – people leaving candles on, overloaded power boards,” says Susan.
“We worked with fire extinguishers, how to pick the right ones for a particular job, wildfire, clearing leaf litter, putting embers out. It was the most amazing and comprehensive course.”