2 October 2023

The REAL Project: Mater Dei Catholic College students partner with seniors to tackle community challenges

| Shri Gayathirie Rajen
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Mentor Keith Lugton with Mater Dei Catholic College Year 9 students Claire Barclay and Maddie Clancy.

Mentor Keith Lugton with Mater Dei Catholic College Year 9 students Claire Barclay and Maddie Clancy. Photo: Shri Gayathirie Rajen.

In a unique initiative, high school students are working with local seniors to identify issues affecting the community and they have formulated solutions.

Forty Year 9 students from Mater Dei Catholic College are working under the guidance of mentors from BaptistCare’s The Grange retirement community as part of The REAL Project to problem solve, design solutions, and present them to the community.

Mater Dei Catholic College leader of learning pedagog data Bianca Munro spearheaded The REAL Project to expose the students to what is happening in Wagga.

“They’re [students] sheltered and, many demographically, are upper and middle class, so they don’t see much of what happens in our community with some of the lived experiences,” Ms Munro said.

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“It is a bit of career exposure and what challenges they see in the community.

“Many of our students didn’t realise how many people were homeless, particularly youth. They didn’t know there was a refuge in Wagga that Mission Australia runs, how many beds are in there and how it works,” Ms Munro said.

The students have chosen to focus on homelessness as part of their project and have been working with their mentors to identify solutions to combat homelessness.

Claire Barclay said working with her mentor was what she enjoyed most about her project.

Mentor John Goodwin with Riley Phegan and Campbell Brown.

Mentor John Goodwin with Riley Phegan and Campbell Brown. Photo: Shri Gayathirie Rajen.

She said it was beneficial to work with mentors who had more life experience and knew about the needs of the Wagga community.

“The amount of homeless people in Wagga was something I didn’t know about … how many displaced youth there are,” Claire said.

Campbell Brown said working with the mentors had been a great experience, and he received ‘good advice’ on tackling the issues around homelessness.

“They’ve helped us improve our ideas and grow from our original idea,” said Riley Phegan.

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Mentor Keith Lugton said he learned much from working with the students and watching them grow.

“It is important for us because we all have grandchildren, and it does help us to get into their space a little bit and understand how younger people think and encourage them to think more maturely,” Mr Lugton said.

“We were impressed with how things changed from the start to the finish … it was a very rewarding experience.”

Mentor John Goodwin found that girls were faster in grasping the concepts than boys.

“My job is to encourage them and not do the work for them,” Mr Goodwin said.

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