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MATES Term 3 Newsletter

Hello MATES Community,

Please find below the latest MATES Newsletter.

2020 continues to be a challenge for all of us and we sincerely hope you are all staying well and safe.

With non-essential volunteers unable to attend schools, the MATES Mentoring Community has certainly felt the impact. Our schools and teachers are currently very overwhelmed and everyone is working to the best of their ability to implement creative ways to offer mentorship to the many current mentees, and those who have not yet been match. Pen Pals, zoom calls and the like are all on the possibility table with a few kinks to iron out. Please stay tuned.

Any previous mentors, who would like to re-register, please get in touch. Whilst our hands are tied (and our faces masked) at the moment, we do expect an increase in mentee referrals once schools return to some what a normal timetable. If you are in a position to help, we would greatly appreciate the service.

If you have any questions or concerns, please contact your school coordinator or the LLEN Mates Team.

Thank you for your ongoing patience, empathy and support of young people.

2020-07 MATES Newsletter

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MATES and COVID-19

Firstly, thank you for volunteering to be a MATES mentor. You are making a real difference in the  life of your mentee. Unfortunately, in accordance with the Victorian State Government regulations and measures to stop the spread of COVID-19, we advise that no face-to-face mentoring catch-up sessions should take place until further notice.

We are currently investigating alternate means of catch-up sessions through social media and web-based platforms to maintain the connections and relationships between mentors and mentees. We are currently working with the Department of Education and Training to ensure that any phone, social media or web platform catch-ups comply with DET and Child Safe regulations. Maintaining the health and safety of our volunteers and young people is our primary focus.
We ask that any mentors wanting to contact their mentee outside of the school environment, first check with their MATES school coordinator to ensure that the contact complies with school policy. While some established mentor-mentee matches have permission to meet outside of school grounds, we understand this may not be the case for primary school students and schools who have elected not to have outside catch-ups within their program.

We have placed all LLEN hosted MATES related events on hold, including face-to-face
training, launches, and celebrations.

Mentor training will still be available online and we are investigating methods of a more
interactive style of training – e.g. Facebook live. If you, or anyone you know, is interested
in participating in the online training, please email me on mates@llen.com.au.

As each school will have a different policy in place regarding volunteers in relation to the developing COVID-19 situation, we ask our volunteers to contact their in-school coordinators for the most appropriate course of action.
Again, we thank all the participants involved in the MATES Mentoring Program at this time.

We will provide further updates when they become available.

Take care, keep safe and stay well.

Sam Flaherty
MATES Coordinator

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MATES Matters 2020

2020 marks the 10 year anniversary of the MATES mentoring program in schools across the Wimmera!

The MATES Mentoring Program, supported by the Wimmera Southern Mallee Local Learning Employment Network, was first implemented as a pilot program at Dimboola Memorial High School in 2010.

After considerable research, conversations and planning between the School, the Wimmera Southern Mallee LLEN and the Hindmarsh Shire Council, it was determined that there was a need for a mentoring program in the community.

Since the resounding success of the pilot, MATES now operates in more than 18 schools across the Wimmera Southern Mallee region with over 600 mentors matched with young people since inception.

If you would like to share your experience with the MATES Program over the last 10 years, please contact either Sam or Vanessa on sam.flaherty@llen.com.au or Vanessa.oloughlin@llen.com.au.

Please click the following link to view the newsletter 2020-02 MATES Newsletter

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The Privilege of Learning to Read

While doing some research recently, I came across some alarming headlines: ‘Reading Wars Raging’, ‘Low literacy affecting our economy’ and ‘The Social Costs of Inadequate Literacy’. Each one was an Australian article dated in 2019. The articles’ headlines were specifically designed to evoke a great deal of emotion and action.

As a mother of two boys aged nine and ten, I feel very fortunate that both of my children are ‘at standard’ for their age in literacy. Whilst they both had a few visits with a speech pathologist in their earlier years to improve pronunciation, neither were deterred from reading. Both boys came into the world surrounded by storybooks. From babies, my husband and I would snuggle down with them, read with much animation and search the pictures for clues—where is that Green Sheep hiding?

Certainly, in their first years of school, it was a priority to sit down and ‘do their reader’ and carefully mark it off in their take-home reading diary with a sentence explaining how wonderfully they had tackled the book. This was then validated by a sticker from their teacher. Even now, we have a ten-minute reading rule every day, although it needs some enforcing at times when competing with basketball, the Xbox, and Lego. Our chosen school has a terrific reading program, a great big library full of bright and interesting books, plus reasonable class sizes and passionate teachers.

Upon reflection, I can only sit here and think, ‘Wow! Our children have really been given the privilege of learning to read’. We have had the privilege of:

  • Accessing a speech pathologist during early learning to nip in the bud any pronunciation issues
  • Having the financial discretion to buy an abundance of books and the capacity to visit libraries and reading events
  • Having both parents at home most evenings who had the time and energy to invest in sitting and reading.
  • Having a peaceful home without tension, conflict or other priorities
  • Parents who were aware of strategies to reinforce positive reading experiences
  • Access to grandparents and extended family who attentively read and encouraged their endless chatter about a ‘Pug called Pig’ and the artistic flair of a kraken.
  • A school that prioritises reading and reading support programs similar to that of the Reading Buddies Program.

Through the LLEN’s work to support early learning, I am acutely aware that the privilege of learning to read is not dealt equally to all children, particularly in rural areas. In some areas, there is limited access to speech pathologists. Some rural areas also have high levels of disadvantage and a range of social complexities that directly impact on a child’s early language development.

When the privilege of reading is removed from children and they fail to reach adequate reading standards, there are consequences. Studies indicate that young people with low levels of literacy will:

  • Be more likely to drop out of school early
  • Be less likely to gain meaningful employment
  • Become more reliant of the public health system
  • Be more likely to engage in dangerous use of alcohol and other drugs
  • Be more likely to engage in risky behaviours
  • Be less likely to be involved in community activities
  • More likely be linked to youth justice and other social welfare programs.

Whilst, as individuals, we cannot solve the complex social issues that many children face, we can certainly take the ‘village’ approach and do what we can where we can. Improving access to books and reading seems like a great place to start. So here are my commitments:

  • I will clear out children’s books that have been outgrown and donate them to charity, or to the LLEN for the pop-up libraries.
  • I will continue to volunteer in schools and advocate for the Reading Buddies Program.
  • I will put a book or two under the wishing trees at Christmas time.

I would welcome your ideas and commitments towards tackling the inequity in learning to read and to see if we can rewrite the headlines for our community. In some instances, it really does take a village…

Positive Reading Experiences

I had a most delightful phone conversation recently with a reading buddy. Olivia was referred to the Reading Buddies Program via Centre for Participation and attended a morning tea and information/training session to find out what was involved in being a reading buddy. She chose the school in which she would like to volunteer and we visited for an orientation session and arranged a time when she could regularly visit to listen to children read.

After her first reading buddies’ session, Olivia phoned to tell me about her ‘first day on the job’. She was reading with children in a prep class and found the children to be absolutely delightful. One little reluctant reader announced that she didn’t like reading and didn’t want to read. Olivia was able to call upon some of the ‘tips for reading with children’ that were covered in the Reading Buddies training session.

She began to engage the student by looking at and talking about the pictures in the book. This progressed to finding words or letters on the pages that the student could recognise and ended up with the student, somewhat hesitantly, reading her reader with her new reading buddy. At the end of the session, the reluctant little reader left with a smile and Olivia left with a great sense of satisfaction and delight and very much looking forward to the next session together.

I suspect that one of the reasons why some children struggle with reading or don’t like reading is because they have not experienced the delight of that special one-on-one time with an adult where they engage in the wonderful world of stories.  Reading to young children is not simply an exercise in hearing and understanding words, it can be a deeply caring and bonding experience between the adult and the child. With such a positive experience generated around a book, reading becomes a delightful experience and hopefully instils a love of reading in the child.

Many children miss out on this special reading time with an adult.  This is one of the reasons why we have a Reading Buddies Program in schools. It gives those reluctant little readers a positive experience with an adult where books are no longer a threat but a source of enjoyment.

We have never yet had too many Reading Buddies in our local schools. If you or anyone you know would like to share your love of reading with a child in a local primary school, please contact us. We are looking for more reading buddies for the beginning of the 2020 school year, so now is the time to start thinking about whether you could spare an hour a week to make a difference in a young person’s life.

Please contact us at The WSMLLEN Office:
info@llen.com.au  Phone 03 5381 0122
Or you can register your expression of interest online at: https://www.llen.com.au/reading-buddies/

Head-start to a Career

Getting a head-start into a career is one of the benefits for students who undertake a Vocational Education and Training (VET) course while completing their secondary studies. VET courses are available to students in years 10–12 and can contribute to the student’s VCAL Certificate or VET Certificate.  Some courses also contribute to a VCE ATAR score. This means that students can complete their secondary schooling with a Certificate 1,2 or (sometimes 3) qualification and this is a great head-start into a career.

Students then have options to take on apprenticeships, traineeships, further study or go into the workforce, and in many cases, this qualification gives a student an advantage in securing a position in their chosen career.

Mackenzie Marra, from Horsham College, is a set on becoming a chef when he leaves school and is one of many young people wanting a career in the kitchen.  He is certainly giving himself the best possible start by completing VET Kitchen Operations as part of his senior schooling.  In this course, Mackenzie is learning skills that will be a valuable asset to any business in the hospitality industry.  With safe food-handling skills, and experience cooking in an industry-standard kitchen for large groups and organisations, Mackenzie will finish his course already having worked in a fast-paced, work environment.

Sarah Kennedy from Edenhope College knew before she started her VET Kitchen Operations course that she liked cooking.  Completing this course has just confirmed her love of it.  She always thought music would be her destiny, but has decided hospitality might be her career pathway with music on the side. Kitchen Operations teaches students a wide variety of skills and techniques.  Learning to cook all sorts of styles and to different dietary requirements is all part of the fun.  These life skills will not be wasted on anyone who decides to complete the course, in fact, Sarah would highly recommend completing VET Kitchen Operations regardless of your chosen vocation.  These skills will be useful in all aspects of your life.

Pictured: Sarah Kennedy, Edenhope College

Volunteering is Good for Your Health

A quick Google search can find numerous articles and scientific studies that indicate that volunteering is good for our health. This is more particularly so for people over the age of 50.

Some of the health benefits of volunteering include:

Lower Blood Pressure
A study from Carnegie Mellon University in the USA found that adults over 50 who volunteered regularly were less likely to have problems with high blood pressure than non-volunteers. One of the researchers concluded that volunteering might increase the physical activity in people who would otherwise be inactive and this, in turn, could reduce stress and improve heart health. 

Better Sleep
The Stony Brook University School of Medicine surveyed more than 4,500 Americans and found that volunteering had an impact on sleep. The survey indicated that volunteers have less trouble sleeping, less anxiety and better friendships and social networks.

Longer life
A study from the University of Michigan looked at the mortality rates of altruistic volunteers and found that those who volunteered regularly had a lower mortality rate than non-volunteers and those who volunteer for self-interest reasons.

Helpers High
Studies have shown that those who volunteer have a similar physical experience to people who exercise vigorously or meditate. This is because the body releases ‘feel-good’ endorphins during positive social contact with others. There was a ‘catch’ associated with achieving this ‘high’. To gain the benefits, the volunteers needed to be involved in direct contact with other people and must be altruistic, without a selfish motivator, like money, being involved.

Numerous articles suggest there are even more benefits to be gained from volunteering which contribute to better health and wellbeing.  Some of these include:

  • Increased levels of physical activity
  • Increased satisfaction and optimism
  • A greater sense of purpose
  • A more positive outlook on life
  • Increased social connection
  • Increased cognitive function
  • Decreased levels of depression and anxiety.

Some of these studies also pointed out that, the health benefits of volunteering were achieved by volunteering for 200 hours per year, (4 hours per week).
Imagine what a difference it would make in our world if everyone over 50 volunteered for 4 hours a week! Not only would our society benefit from the skills and experience being injected into our communities but the volunteers themselves would experience improved health, reducing the burden on our medical system.

People who volunteer do so for a number of reasons. The primary reason is often that they want to make a difference or help others, but it is also OK to gain some benefits for ourselves. Sometimes the satisfaction of knowing that we are helping someone provides sufficient benefit in itself. The additional benefits of volunteering then become an added bonus.

At Wimmera Southern Mallee LLEN we have volunteering opportunities that have the potential to improve the health of our volunteers:

  • Our Reading Buddies program provides the opportunity for volunteers to listen to children read, on-on-one for an hour a day, one or more mornings a week in a local school.
  • Our MATES Mentoring Program matches adult volunteers with young people in local schools. Mentors catch up with their mentee for one hour a fortnight for a whole year. This small amount of time (just 24 hours over a whole year) can make an enormous difference in the life of a young person.

Whether you are over 50 or under, we would love to hear from you if you would like to make a difference in a young person’s life.

See more on our reading Buddies Page and our MATES Mentoring Page

The Ice-cream Shop

A recent conversation and pretend-play session with my three-year-old granddaughter centred around an ice-cream shop. Annie is a little chatterbox and loves ‘pretend play’.  She will spend hours occupying herself creating conversations between her toys and loves to engage any willing members of the family in her imaginative world.

“Would you like to come to my ice-cream shop, Grandma?” I didn’t need a second invitation to spend some quality time with this special little person. I was offered a range of ice-cream flavours. The conversation went like this: “You could have mango, strawberry, blueberry, chocolate, vanilla, pineapple, or plumb.”
I asked, “Do you have ginger ice-cream? Ginger ice-cream is my favourite.”
“Well, no Grandma, I don’t have ginger ice-cream but I could ask my cook to make some.”

While the cook was making the ginger ice-cream, Annie announced that she would sing to me so, with a little toy accordion, she squeezed out a tune and made up a song about Grandma coming to her ice-cream shop. At the conclusion of the performance and after a round of applause from a delighted grandma, she announced, “I’ll go and see if the cook has finished making your ice-cream now, Grandma.” She promptly returned with my special order of ginger ice-cream. I licked my ice-cream with great approval. “This is the most delicious ice-cream I have ever tasted. How do you make such beautiful ice-cream?”

To my surprise, this three-year-old replied, “The ingredients are sugar, eggs, cream, vanilla and ginger and I mix them. I don’t cook them, I just mix them.” I was impressed on three counts, firstly that she knew the word ‘ingredients’, secondly that she could list a range of ingredients that were entirely appropriate to make ice-cream and thirdly that she knew that ice-cream didn’t need to be cooked. Our conversation continued, “Do you think your cook could make me another ginger ice-cream?”

“Well no, Grandma, he can’t.” “Why not,” I asked.  ‘Well he died,” was the totally unexpected reply. “Oh dear,” I said. “That is terrible. Why did he die?” “Well Grandma, he just didn’t eat healthy food.”

The pretend play continued for over an hour with many servings of ice-cream, bad batches of ice-cream that had to be thrown out, a visit to the ice-cream shop by Grandpa and endless chatter.

I was enthralled by this pretend play experience and amazed by the imagination, creativity, knowledge and language skills of a three-year-old to be able to engage in such a detailed conversation. By the age of three, this little one has mastered complex sentence construction and can correctly use nouns (singular and plural), pronouns, adjectives, adverbs, verbs in various tenses, along with clauses joined by conjunctions in a sequence.

Not only is all of this grammar in place, but there is also an understanding of the importance of eating healthy food and ingredients to make ice-cream! I wonder what else is being stored in that little mind.

In visiting schools in our local region, we have heard that some schools are introducing ‘pretend play’ into the prep classrooms because, increasingly, children are coming to school with limited experience of pretend play. I wonder if its absence is having an adverse effect on our children. Pretend play is a vital part of language development for young children.  In our increasingly fast-paced society and with the proliferation of electronic devices, perhaps we are not finding as much time to spend on the simple things like talking, reading and pretending with our children.

…and I am becoming increasingly aware of the valuable contribution grandparents can make in the lives of young children. While parents are extremely busy with careers and the ever-increasing need to work more, the one thing that many grandparents have, especially those who have retired, is time. I am convinced that the best inheritance I can leave to my children, is to invest time in my grandchildren.

Mandy and Zarnia – Their Story

Sam caught up with Mandy and Zarnia to discuss their experience with the MATES Program at Dimboola Memorial Secondary College. See below a video of their story and transcript.

What is the MATES program and what have you got out of it?
M: The MATES mentoring program to me was an opportunity to help a younger person within my community and I was introduced to Zarnia and I feel like her big sister now and hopefully that’s how she feels too.
Z: MATES Mentoring to me is an opportunity I get to communicate with someone in the community and open up to someone else that’s not just family and friends. I get to talk to someone else.
M: and get a different perspective

Why did you sign up?
M: It was introduced to me through a friend of mine, she asked if I would be interested in doing it, I do a lot of other volunteering within the community. When she said it was helping a young person up at the high school I thought I could get into that. I have a lot of compassion and understanding to share and thought this was a good way to do it.

Do you think the program has made an impact? Have you noticed any changes?
Z: It’s impacted me. It’s made high school a lot easier because I can talk to Mandy for help and guidance and made me more sociable and more comfortable around people and more able to be myself.
M: I feel like I’ve given Zarnia the tools to help her cope with a lot more other things now. Rather than hide, she can now confront people and get her point of view across without it being done in a nasty way. She’s a lot more confident than when I first met her. I think it’s done both of us good.

How often to you catch up? What kind of things do you do together?
M: On average, it’s once a fortnight, sometimes weekly depending on special occasions for example: Zarnia’s birthday we caught up twice in that one week for her birthday and then our normal visit. We do cooking, we play games, I take Zarnia out and we go and have a coffee and a cake down at the bakery. We’re planning a trip to Aradale and J-Ward in Ararat because it’s a place Zarnia wants to visit.
Z: It’s on my bucket list. We do a lot of cooking and that’s one of my favourite things, amongst the many others.

Why do you think mentoring is important?
M: I think in this day and age where social media can be so critical, it’s good to have a positive influence coming through to show you that there are nice people out there, they’re not all nasty, horrible people that just want to keep putting you down. There are people that will encourage and help and I think the MATES Mentoring Program shows that not just Zarnia, but people around Zarnia, just how much she’s improved and then might want to get involved in the program themselves.

How would you rate the experience?
Z: 10/10
M: Ditto

What would you say to someone who is thinking of becoming a mentor?
Z: Go for it, it’s an amazing opportunity you can have.

What was it like when you first met?
M: I think Zarnia has grown in her confidence exceptionally, she can talk to me now. Initially, at a few of our first little meetings, I could tell that something had happened and she would say “I don’t want to talk about it” and I would wait five minutes and I would go, “Zarnia, that’s what I’m here for, you have to unload.” So she ended up getting into that habit of “yes, Mandy’s here, I can just tell her everything that’s happened” and knowing that I keep all of that in confidence for her is an added bonus. It helps both of us, it helps her unload and helps me understand what she’s going through.

Would you recommend the program?
M: Most definitely. I’ve recommended the program to people in the community.