Closing the educational gap with ‘Yarr-Pai’ program

Youth Off The Streets’ Bourke Outreach, in partnership with the local high school, is running a culturally based literacy and numeracy program for young people disengaged from mainstream education.

The young people of Bourke wander the streets at night, unwilling to return home. This means that getting up in time for school the next day isn’t the main priority: staying safe is. Their education suffers and they need help to get back on track.

The ‘Yarr-Pai’ program was created to help these young people re-engage with their education. Earlier this year, a 15 year-old Aboriginal young person took part in the program. To qualify for ‘Yarr-Pai’ a young person has to attend fewer than 10% of school days. This young person was assessed at the start of the program and was found to have a reading and comprehension level of a year three student.

The program’s goal is to transition the young people back into mainstream education. The first step is to get them used to regular hours, so the program runs from 10:00am to 2:00pm. The next step is to engage them in something of interest. Aboriginal culture and art lessons play a big part in this. The students, through culturally specific classes, gradually work on their literacy and numeracy levels until they are up to a satisfactory level for high school. The program is led by a fully funded, full-time teacher from the local high school and a Youth Off The Streets youth worker providing in-class support. There is a maximum of eight young people in the program at any one time.

The young people can stay in the program for up to three terms. Once completed, the students then gradually return to mainstream education. The first part of the transition is to get them to attend high school three or four days per week and still coming once a week to the ‘Yarr-Pai’ program. Once the youth worker and teacher are confident in the young person’s ability to stay in school, they are fully transitioned back into mainstream education. The most recent graduates of the ‘Yarr-Pai’ program had an attendance level between zero and ten per cent before the program. After they completed the program, they had an attendance record of greater than 65%.

The fantastic increase in attendance is how we recognise success of the ‘Yarr-Pai’ program. Education is key to unlocking the potential of young people and breaking the cycle of disadvantage. Re-engaging these young people with mainstream education is the key to a better future.

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