Bringing VCAL Back to Life

The Problem

At the start of the Changemaker Program Sarah identified the need for a review of the VCAL program that was in place. Students who had a history of ‘failing’ at school were being expected to learn the same way they had found disengaging for the previous 11 years in school. VCAL at Sarah’s school was seen as a ‘dumping ground’, and the program was perceived poorly by both students and teachers, as well as by the wider community. She believed in a school where all students can achieve success and have the skills they need to succeed in the “real world”, but it wasn’t her reality at the start of the year.

Sarah’s  Solution

Sarah decided she was going to create an engaging, connected, active learning environment; a place where students could experience a sense of achievement and success in real world applications. She followed the steps below to start to make change at her school..

  1. VCAL was in its own room and so students weren’t seen as a part of the rest of the school. Sarah moved ‘Literacy’ to the common 9-12 building, and as a result saw a complete change in behaviour because students felt more connected with their peers.
  2. Next she reached out and formed networks with other VCAL providers who ran successful programs so that she could get ideas about what makes up an effective program.
  3. Sarah then worked to give her VCAL students some autonomy and a sense of responsibilty. Each student was given a project to work on such as fundraising, organising student vs. staff sport, and working on the Debutant committee. These students became the ‘go to’ people for these events and we so competent that they’ll be in charge of the school’s cafe next year.
  4. Sarah then sought support from her colleagues and approached other teachers who would fit the way they were starting to work in VCAL so that there were more staff on board to help with the program. She looked for people who were enthusiastic, could think outside the box, and who believe in the capacity of the kids.
  5. Next, Sarah developed a VCAL program with a strong emphasis on solving real-world problems and on skills that would be useful beyond the school gates (e.g. learning to drive, etc).
  6. Finally, and importantly, Sarah asked her VCAL students for feedback about the changes she’d made to their program. The ideas the students provided Sarah have helped her to continue to refine the program, and to tailor learning for each student based on what they were looking for in their learning.

Sarah’s Impact

Has it worked? Heck yeah. 22 students in VCAL this year have benefitted from Sarah’s new approach, and Sarah’s pretty excited to meet next year’s students and to continue to grow the program.

“Taylor traditionally had an extremely poor attendance at school and lacked confidence due to poor literacy skills. I was able to get her literacy support (through QuickSmart) which has traditionally only been available to primary students. With the support she’d receiving through the program, Taylor is now attending school regularly, and she is gaining confidence when it comes to having a go. I think she’s coming to school more because her confidence is improving and she’s now working on programs that engage her. She’s focussed on getting her Ls, is enjoying learning how to cook, and she is excited about doing her Deb, so Taylor is working on the organisation of the event itself.”

Like the idea?

Sarah would love your support for Bringing VCAL Back to Life, or for you to start a similar program in your school, and she’d love to hear about any ideas you have or lend a hand where she can. Shoot an email to if you want to get in touch with Sarah and we can connect you. Feel free to cheer her on in the comments below as well. #WhatChangeLooksLike #ECStories #EduChange

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