Winner of the 2023 OSHLSP of the Year – Metropolitan Award

After-School Program, Banksia Gardens Community Services

We interviewed Bodhi Sweeny, the After-School Program Team Leader, about winning the OSHLSP of the Year – Metropolitan award.

Bodhi Sweeny and Tess Cheetham of Banksia Gardens Community Services pictured with The Hon. Natalie Hutchins, Minister for Education & Women

Congratulations on winning the OSHLSP of the Year – Metropolitan award. What an incredible achievement! Can you tell us about your program?

The After-School Program, formerly known as Study Group, encompasses several after-school activity sessions held for school-aged children and young people throughout the week. While the majority of these sessions are held at our Broadmeadows community centre, we offer an online study-support service, extending assistance to students in regional Victoria. We also deliver a boxing fitness program in partnership with K1ngdom boxing gym in Campbellfield.

The After-School Program is very popular – we have over 200 registered students! Our Wednesday session, the busiest of the week, typically sees between 50 to 60 participants. Despite this sizable turnout, our participants evenly spread among our various activity spaces, including art and craft classes, the community garden, Melbourne Victory-hosted soccer matches in our hall, and, of course, our classroom spaces. Wednesday sessions always have an energetic and exciting atmosphere. Our volunteer and staff team do such a fantastic job engaging our participants and creating an environment where they feel regulated and safe.

While we provide quality academic support for Foundation – VCE students, we believe social and emotional engagement is equally important. Our staff are positive, safe role models who undertake training in trauma-informed approaches to teaching and youth engagement, and this is reflected in the rapport they have with all attendees. We strike a good balance between providing quality academic support and being genuinely inclusive. Sometimes attendees have challenges at school or live in a chaotic home environment and can therefore arrive at the sessions with dysregulated behaviour. Our team does a great job responding to incidents and dysregulation by working together, following predictable processes, maintaining safety, using de-escalation strategies, and following fair but safe restorative processes if boundaries are crossed.

Can you share some highlights from your program in 2023?

Following on from the previous question, one of the most important developments has been hosting high participant attendance with minimal conflict and confrontation. We can sometimes forget that many children and young people find school stressful and tiring – and then they visit our program and need to negotiate another high-energy, social environment once again! I can genuinely say that most, if not all, students walk away from our program satisfied. Given that we work closely with families who have experienced intergenerational trauma, and the effects that this trauma can have on their children’s behaviour, this has not always been the case. I’m really proud of what our team has been able to achieve in terms of the quality of activities, creating safe-spaces and being positive role-models to our children and young people.

Another highlight has been the ongoing support we provide to students in regional Victoria. Since 2020 we have offered both local and regional Victorian students access to our online sessions. Over this period, four regional Victorian students have attended almost every session –  what outstanding commitment! It’s a pleasure to have contributed in some small way towards their future success and to see them grow, both personally and in their academic capability.

Your program also won the OSHLSP of the Year Award in 2020. What do you think makes your club successful?

The people and the range of services we provide. Our team debriefs after every session and takes these learnings into the next one. This creates togetherness, confidence in our systems and in each other, and produces tangible results. We have very capable staff, passionate and invested volunteers, and love having so many interesting and unique children and young people visit each week. We have strong relationships with our partners, all of whom are invested in our approach to youth and community engagement. We offer quality education support but also a myriad of other recreational, environmental, and creative activities of equal importance. We have something for everyone, but don’t spread our team too thin in the process.

What does winning the OSHLSP of the Year Award mean to you and your OSHLSP?

Winning the award is the culmination and celebration of the collective effort that goes into our program. We gratefully accept it in recognition of our volunteers, staff, partners, and stakeholders. In their absence we could not deliver such high quality activities to so many children and young people.

In addition, like most other community organisations, we rely on yearly grants for the program’s continuation, so it provides us with evidence to benefactors and other funders that the money they invest has tangible results.

All category winners with The Hon. Natalie Hutchins, Minister for Education & Women

Photo credit: Harjono Djoyobisono

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