A new pilot program in the Wide Bay Burnett region has provided 10 formerly disengaged students with a clear path to a career in hospitality or agriculture.
The Integrated Pathways at Kepnock (IP@K) program supported the students through hands-on skills development, competency training and building relationships with industry mentors.
Kepnock State High School, Bundaberg Regional Council and local agriculture stakeholders formed IP@K in 2021, launched the pilot in 2022 and plan to continue it into 2023.
Kepnock State High School Year 8 coordinator Danni Hibbert said the vocation-based program for years 7 to 9 aims to re-connect young people through a series of immersive experiences hosted by local agricultural and hospitality industry representatives.
"I have been working at Kepnock SHS in the junior secondary space for nearly 10 years and I could see many young students entering high school came with significant trauma and disadvantage beyond their control, and by the time they were able to access TAFE Certificate courses in Year 10, many had disengaged completely," Ms Hibbert said
This new learning approach has led students to develop an interest in a range of local industries, including agriculture and hospitality, and has built confidence and inspired them to pursue a brighter future.
One student even obtained work with Macadamias Australia over the Christmas holiday, as he was of working age.
"Many of the industry mentors were very keen to offer employment opportunities to the IP@K students next year," Ms Hibbert said.
"Students had the ability to prepare food in commercial kitchens as well as preparing meals using the produce from the farms they had visited.
"Probably the most rewarding experiences they gained was developing positive relationships with members of the community and each other."
Ms Hibbert said it was great to see local businesses and council come on board.
"The 2022 pilot was supported by Bundaberg Regional Council, Peirson Farms Trust, Macadamias Australia, Macadamia Farm management, Suncoast Gold Macadamias, Greensill Farming, Bargara Beach Hotel and Regional Drone Solutions," she said.
The IP@K pilot has also already seen some impressive outcomes, including a significant improvement in attendance, behaviour and self-confidence, engagement in learning and positive relationships with the community, as well as expressions of interest from other students and parents and carers keen to get involved in the program.
"Analysis of the pilot program showed a 45% reduction in truancy," Ms Hibbert said.
"One hundred per cent of students who participated in the IP@K pilot gave the program 5/5 stars."
Ms Hibbert said there has been a lot of interest in the IP@K program from Kepnock students and parents as well as other schools in the region and it is looking to expand.
"We have been planning to expand the program in 2023 to allow 30 students the opportunity to participate, as well as expanding industry mentors to include tourism, construction, hospitality and agriculture," she said.