Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Blackwood annexe and a vision of a boarding school

In my search for suitable employment, I have uncovered a place about 15 kms south east of Drouin which is attached to the Drouin Secondary College called the Blackwood Annexe. What is the Blackwood Annexe? It is a group of buildings in an idyllic bush land setting used as a Learning Centre for around 20 students per intake on six month programs. So approximately 40 students each year are processed through the Blackwood Annexe. I had read some of the information on the program, but had not found their website.  I read the website information after attending their information session for prospective students and their parents. It explained some things which I will explain later.
My first impression of Blackwood Annexe was good. Beautiful settings, friendly and down to earth staff, and seemingly good facilities. It is cozy and provides an intimate setting for kids who are underachieving in their secondary schools to make the appropriate lifestyle and attitudes needed if they are to survive and thrive into adulthood.  The head of the Blackwood Annexe is David Hayes. He is a Maths teacher from Drouin Secondary College who started this centre some twenty years ago in 1994.Their program is good and reaches out to students who might otherwise fall by the wayside and continue a downward spiral into all sorts of unsavory and negative lifestyles. They have around one staff member for every two students. I was quoted one to three but when I looked at the website it was higher. I spoke with a woman called Annie and she seemed also to be impressive, until I asked her about how they selected students for the program. She explained to me that the students had to want to make a change in their lives at the point of the interview. To illustrate this, she explained that one child she interviewed had been in trouble with drugs, stealing a car etc  etc  and had asked her and the parent with the student, ’Why should I change/ What’s wrong with me?’ That child she told me, a little too smugly is not ready to come to Blackwood. That is where she lost me and I began to get this familiar queasy feeling in the pit of my guts. My role as an educator has always been to get them to come to that point through the work I do in the classroom and they do not have to become a Jew to do so before or after. They have to learn to value themselves and to understand how valuable a being they are, just by the mere fact of being born here on this world at this time.
Don’t misread my intention in saying this. What they are doing at Blackwood is great work. They take kids – secondary school students who are either in a rut or on the brink of wanting to make radical changes in a negative outlook and lifestyle and assist them to get out of it and to walk the walk on the mainstream success highway. What really worries me is the students who they do not bother with or who they throw back in the gutter by the road. Where do they go? There is also another aspect to it that worried me and it is their very insular outlook. From being very keen for me to come out there and on the point of accepting my offer of volunteer work because I had hoped for some sort of reference which might lead to paid work, all doors slammed shut when they met me. I dress conservatively, because I am a conservative in my outlook and my lifestyle. My dress reflects this. I am precise and down to earth and I am a hard worker. I don’t like bullshit and that was what I smelt at Blackwood that Friday.
All the talk about teamwork and the other niceties they espoused is simply a cover for their Christian brain washing of vulnerable adolescent minds. Yes, they do put students on a better life path, but I want to ask what about the drug taking car thief? Do they care what happens to that child? See for me, that child is the one that you need to corral into more positive choices. The others are already half way there. After looking through the staff profiles I noted that the staff without exception were from strong Christian backgrounds and that is why it was suggested to me, again to try the Christian Schools? Whoa, already been down that path and been told that they want their teachers to ‘have a Christian world view.  Thank you very much for applying and we wish you every success in your search for teaching employment.’ Nice, but narrow minded and a very insular outlook. I did reply and explained that my Orthodox Jewish world view is very tolerant of other world views, religious, cultural, gay or whatever.  I may not agree with the different world views professed by some,  but in the interests of common peaceful goals, I am tolerant and respectful. How did someone from one of the Gay and Lesbian Support Groups on another blog post term it, that’s right, ‘I abhor your so called loving rejection of marriage equality.’ Little did that person really understand that while I will reject same sex marriage and religious beliefs that I believe from my perspective and understanding of Torah values are wrong, I do validate that person’s right to exist and hold such views even if they are contrary to mine. It is called respect and giving credit where credit is due.
While they may do some very good work at Blackwood, I for one, dislike the sanctimonious and holier than thou attitude of the staff and I do understand now why they rejected my offer of volunteer work. They rejected it for the same reasons that Gerard Jongsma the Principal of Narrandera High School  rejected my offer of volunteering an after school literary program in the school for the year 9’s and 10’s who were having difficulties. His words to me were simply ‘I do not think you can offer anything of value to these students.’
I did not understand what he meant. What he meant was simply, ‘You are a Jew. We want someone who is Christian and involved with the Church groups. ‘ that is the only reason I was undermined and belittled both privately and publically by this man.
Personally I think it is time some of these Christian groups grew up. They do good work, but not everyone has to be a Christian and there are good people in the world who hold non Christian views.  If the Catholic Church is anything to go by, they have also destroyed a lot of vulnerable people’s lives.
If only I could win lotto or get someone to finance a school I would do it and set up programs for kids who would come to the door telling you where to get off and angry as hell with the world and have them leave after one year calmer and more reflective human beings. I would want such a school for city kids who were having problems in many areas of life and not just kids who were underachieving and handpicked to succeed.
It would have to be a boarding school and have no more than 32 students a year. Four houses with eight students in each house and a married house mother and father in each house. People who have raised their families or their youngest child is in the teens and they are very stable solid parents who have successfully raised children and married them off. A program of studies can be created around improving literacy, numeracy and sciences with elective topics. Students would have the choice of going back home to their families on the weekend or remaining at the school and doing supervised activities on the weekend that was in line with their beliefs. Jewish kids would be encouraged to go home and the non Jewish students would have a program over the weekend that would involve meditation programs and sports activities with Non Jewish staff. Jewish kids and staff would have a Shabbat program with visitors from Melbourne. You could only have boys or girls not both and my thinking is that such a program could be set up with animal husbandry and horse riding as elective subjects. It sounds a crazy idea and unless I win lotto, like at least 15 million to buy the farmland, build buildings and get staff and create a program, it is not going to happen. The government would need to fund it as well as private donors. It ain’t gunna happen though. But it would be good if it could and it could turn 32 young people’s lives a year around, maybe more. You also take kids with learning and life challenges because through them,  you learn and the kids learn to be better citizens. Success in this life is not counted only by academic achievements, but it helps kids’s self esteem and builds their character.
Dream on Ilana, dream on. I am dreaming only of work now and how to get into paid work and complete my  cert IV while trying to feed my son and myself as well as have money for utilities etc etc.

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