Meet the team supporting the Grafton group of schools

In this edition, we head up to our North Coast region to hear from the team supporting our Grafton group of schools. We spoke to School Administrative Officer Emma Darbin, SBAT Engagement Officer Rachel Copeland, and Head Teacher Careers David Youman who has been with the program since the launch of the pilot.

The Educational Pathways Program is able to achieve improved education and employment outcomes for young people largely thanks to the work of our committed school-based team members. The Grafton group of schools includes: Grafton High School, Maclean High School, South Grafton High School, and Woolgoolga High School.

Meet the team supporting these schools - School Administrative Officer Emma Darbin, SBAT Engagement Officer Rachel Copeland, Head Teacher Careers David Youman, - and find out what the Educational Pathways Program means to them.

What experience do you bring to the team?

Rachel: I was a teacher for a long time in several different schools around NSW. I have experienced living and working in both large and small regional towns/cities. I have learnt not to take places/people at face value, to ‘not judge the book by its cover’. I have also trained and worked in VET, working with students aged 15-65 years old.. I have learnt to encourage people to work with their strengths to improve what they perceive to be their weaknesses. People will always be different in the ways they communicate and prefer to learn. I've learnt to be flexible to maintain positive communication and continuous learning. I'm a Mum to 3 amazing young adults who help me to remain relatively current with our changing world and who help me to keep learning and be curious. I understand that navigating our world for young people can be very challenging at times and my first hand experience as a Mum helps me to give guidance and assurance when needed - to be an advocate for our SBATs, but to also teach them to be more independent and trust themselves.

Emma: I bring media and communication experience to the team. I worked as a newspaper journalist for more than 10 years. I feel that there are a lot of careers program promotion and communication involved in my EPP SAO role which my past work experience in the media has come in handy for and been beneficial for the team.

David: My previous position was Head Teacher Industrial Arts (Technology and Applied Studies). In this position, I developed a close working relationship with business owners and tradespeople from the local area. Having come from the trades, I have always guided young people to follow vocational pathways and frequently use my career pathways as an example of a successful career journey. Understanding the VET learning pathway and the many opportunities that can come from the study option, I have a passion to promote VET to students, staff, parents and local employers.

What do you enjoy most about your role?

Rachel: I love being able to support students to find a place or industry where they find their passion and ultimately some success. The traditional school system isn't always the right fit for students, so it's so great to be part of a program that can offer different career pathways and showcase the VET sector as a vital and valid option for students to explore. I love working with students who are looking for something different or who need support to navigate school and career choices. It's such a privilege to be part of a team that is enhancing the VET opportunities for students and meeting the needs of industry to provide young skilled workers for their businesses to employ and nurture.

Emma: I enjoy being able to assist students with their career concerns, assisting fellow EPP staff members and the careers staff at my base school, and all the careers promotion I do to inform our school communities about local job opportunities, EPP programs, university information, careers webinars and so much more.

David: Connecting students to possibilities and opportunities that they may not have been exposed to from their parents, friends and teachers. Assisting teaching staff in exposing their students to real opportunities and local industry visits - this is not just a learning opportunity for the students, but develops our teaching staff's knowledge and experiences across the whole school curriculum.

Are there any opportunities or challenges that are unique to the schools and communities you are working in?

The team all agree that one of the main challenges they face for their Grafton group of schools is the distance between their schools and training services.

Rachel: I think it's a given that most young people learn best with face-to-face delivery of training. Some of the schools I support do not have RTO's available locally and need to travel a significant distance to access training. This means that they need to rely on parents/family/friends for transport, or local bus companies with limited timetables. It's certainly not ideal and can be the barrier that stops students from being able to study the course they are most interested in.

Emma: One unique challenge in our area in northern NSW is our distance from local industries and TAFE services. This can lead to difficulties with students being transported to undertake work experience or TAFE courses. We are also quite far from our nearest EPP group of schools in Ballina, so we tend to operate separately as a single EPP group of schools which means we miss some of the interaction other EPP groups of schools get to benefit from by being in close proximity to each other.

David: A key challenge is the geographical distance between schools and local services such as TAFE and TAFE opportunities.

Emma also notes the strength of community surrounding their schools as a unique opportunity.

Emma: A unique opportunity for the Grafton group of schools is the sense of community in our local area and the desire for local businesses to assist local high schools and take on local students for work opportunities due to the small knit community we live in.

What is your proudest achievement in the role so far?

Rachel: I'm proud to see the Year 12 students that I started mentoring last year getting ready to complete their training and/or traineeships. It's quite a buzz to know that your support helped each of these students to be able to complete their HSC as well as their nationally recognised VET Qualification. It's great to receive words of appreciation from the students, schools and parents. These words of affirmation make it definitely worthwhile.

Emma: Being the longest serving EPP SAO!!!

David: Connecting school staff with stakeholders that have found it difficult to connect with schools in the past; also getting students out into industry to experience the real work environment through industry engagement visits. This has also created industry links and networks that will be in place far into the future.

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

Rachel: I'm very fortunate to live in a small village where I can walk along the river and then up to the beach. I regularly enjoy going on long walks. I enjoy catching up with family and friends for a cuppa or a meal and a chat. I like to get out into nature and soak up its wonder and enjoy the positive vibes.

Emma: I am currently undertaking a Master of Information Studies degree (4 weeks left to go!) so I don't have any spare time at present. But when I am not doing uni work my favourite thing to do on a weekend is to cook in my kitchen and listen to music at the same time.

David: Spending time with my family, riding my motorbike and paddle boarding.

Where is your favourite place? This could be anywhere! A holiday spot, special restaurant or the patch in the backyard that gets just the right amount of sun!

Rachel: I've definitely worked out that I'm a coastal girl. I like to be where I can at least hear the waves crashing. There's so many beautiful beach spots along our coastline. I don't think I could pick just one!

Emma: My favourite place is the beach. I am very lucky living in Woolgoolga that the beach is only a short walk away from my home.

David: Anywhere free camping, sitting by a fire, having a cold beverage :)

For our binge watchers, or book readers, any recommendations of TV shows, movies or books?

Rachel: Absolutely loved reading Phosphorescence by Julia Baird. I'm reading the Matthew Perry book, ‘Friends, Lovers and the Big Terrible Thing’ at the moment which is surprisingly interesting.

Emma: I am looking forward to being able to read books again and watch Netflix when I finish uni!

David: Not much of a book reader but when I do it's normally a technical text book.

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