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Pine Rivers Corps goes ‘back to school’ in vibrant educational partnership

Students learn cooking and barista skills as part of the curriculum at The Salvation Army Independent School.

The air is buzzing with excitement amongst young students at Queensland’s Salvation Army Independent School – and all for good reason. The young people have embarked on new and thrilling endeavours alongside their local corps that are empowering them to seize life’s opportunities, as Salvos Online journalist LERISSE SMITH discovered. 


Aux-Lieut Liam Holland interviews a student about his experience at The Salvation Army school.

It all began one momentous day at the crisp hour of 4.30am.


Waking up for what was going to be an extraordinary day in his life, a talented student who was completely non-verbal when he first enrolled at the school prepared to speak for the first time at the Pine Rivers Red Shield Appeal launch breakfast. And he nailed it.


“For a child who’s had such a negative experience in other schooling systems to get up in front of people and be able to share some of his personal journey was just huge, it was so big – and he nailed it,” said Auxiliary-Lieutenant Alli Holland, Corps Officer at Pine Rivers.


“And he’s been on a high since.”


Extending an invitation to the student to speak at the big event, hosted annually by Leader of the Opposition Peter Dutton, was a top priority for Alli and her husband, Auxiliary-Lieutenant Liam, who described the partnership between The Salvation Army Independent School and their corps as “a beautiful one.” 

Aux-Lieuts Liam and Alli Holland with Peter Dutton and two students from The Salvation Army school at the Pine Rivers Red Shield Appeal launch in May.

The Hollands are constantly inspired by the students and how the young man who spoke at the breakfast event arose at 4.30am and waited until 6.30am to ensure he arrived on time. 


“He combed his hair and walked down to make sure he could be there on time. It wasn’t so much what he said as the change in his posture, his smile and his confidence. He had just grown,” Alli said.


“To see him when he first started speaking, where he was a little bit agitated, and his leg was kind of twitching, to by the end where he was so confident was so inspirational.”


Ask any young person what they want out of life, and often the response will be simple – to reach their full potential. 


And thanks to the exciting partnership between the school, which supports students who are, or have been, disengaged from mainstream education, and Pine Rivers, the young people are indeed on the journey to reaching their full potential.


“We used to go over to the school to use their kitchen and serve breakfast, but now the tables have turned thanks to an exciting new Service Learning model where students come across to the corps to help serve breakfast and coffee to our community members,” Alli said.


“It has been a really lovely launchpad from us providing something for them to them coming on board and going what can we do together, which I really love.”


The ‘doing something together’ has seen the students learn the art of being a barista, of making a great coffee, from grinding the beans to using the machine tamp. The corps has 70 to 90 community members on Tuesdays and Thursdays for breakfast and lunch.


“We flip a lot of pancakes!” Alli said. 


Students have helped with a Mother’s Day High Tea and fully catered for 250 people at a recent celebration of life event where tasty culinary delights of all sorts included an array of delicious sandwiches.


Building lifelong skills

The Service Learning Framework, intentionally linking the school students with the corps, has formed an integral part of supporting students at the school, which comprises one school and two campuses – Lawnton (North Brisbane) and Riverview (Ipswich). The Special Assistant School supports young people in accessing quality education and training programs from Years 10 to 12.


School Principal Helen Boardman said the greatest benefit of the partnership was the strong relationship with the corps that enabled the students to participate in the learning framework.

School ambassadors prepare to welcome the community to the school's open day that was held recently. Here they are pictured with the youth worker.

“This model allows students to ‘give back’ to the wider Salvation Army community and those in need of support in our community by working alongside the corps staff and volunteers to help with community support projects offered by the corps,” she said.


“It builds skills aligned with empathy, compassion and generosity of time and spirit and demonstrates to our students that, alongside the support they receive, it is important to reciprocate the kindness shown to them by serving others in our wider community.”


Alli agreed and said one of the interesting aspects that both she and Liam had noticed was the development and growth in confidence of the students they engaged with at their corps. 


They recalled another special occasion with a student who experienced a pivotal moment when he received a bike donated to the corps from a local business. It enabled him to have his own mode of transport – and helped to bring down his defences. After wearing a face mask and glasses for a long time, he finally took them off at his school graduation.


Liam said the corps always loved to hear what the students were undertaking.


“It’s so ingrained because it’s been done that way over the years, the conversation around what the students are doing at the moment, the celebration of seeing them grow and contribute and cheering them on as well,” he said.


Alli added that their corps had a beautiful intergenerational relationship with the young students, which was mutually beneficial. 


“We love their energy and hearing about what they want to do when they finish school,” she said. “They sometimes get a family model that they may not have had, or people that are constantly looking out for them, and praying for them, and wanting what’s best for them and championing them. It’s just this beautiful dual relationship.”


Creating communities

Liam reflected it was also all about creating communities.


The corps recently welcomed parents from the school and students, including community members from the local homeless community and some general faith community. 


“They were all sitting in a melting pot together, just talking and connecting together about life,” he said.


“You just watch across a room and see how every part of them contributes to that conversation from as young as 16 through to a 90-year-old in the room, communicating together. It was pretty amazing to watch.”


Cheryl Dunkley, the National Student Support Services Manager of Youth and Education, said the school shared their vision and passion with the Hollands and the opportunities to connect through the students helping serve at special events for parents and the school community.


Describing the partnership as an organic transition and intentional between the two, Cheryl added there was a big focus on believing in their young people.


“If you’ve got someone who believes in you, if you’ve got someone who can see potential, and you can draw that potential out in those young people, it’s liquid gold,” she said.

Students learn many practical skills during their education.

“Because for some young people, that’s been pushed down, it’s been squashed. As humans, we tend to believe we won’t amount to anything, [and] we can’t do things. However, we know that for young people, if they have self-esteem, they can start to believe that what they thought was impossible, was possible.”


A key encouragement for the staff is the students wanting to turn up to school and be involved in projects such as service learning. 


“They are turning up, which is awesome; it’s fantastic,” she said. 


“We’re talking about disengaged young people. It blows me away how we have young people that want to come to our school during school holidays. There’s so much going on for these young people. However, they’re coming to class. And these are students that haven’t been to mainstream school for maybe two years.”


And what drives the students to attend school? 


“We all want to belong – it’s human nature to live in community and belong,” Cheryl said.


“The school is a safe space for most of our young people. They have that feeling, that sense of belonging and purpose. Our school exists not just for the here and now but also for five to 10 years down the track to prepare our young people for life past the four walls, past the desks, the tables and the chairs. So, for our young people, it’s getting them ready so that they can be a part of their community, and the greater community and breaking the cycle.


“The staff at our schools provide education, training and employment pathways as well as advocating for young people, especially those who do not have the support of an adult in their lives at home.”

“There is so much potential in each and every one of them. Just coming alongside them and showing these young people what they can do, and plan for things in their future, giving them aspirations, giving them confidence.”


Helen said the school staff advocated tirelessly for those who may not be aware of their rights in education or the available resources. 


Holistic approach

“Young people who have missed large portions of school find it difficult to navigate through the job market, Centrelink services, the legal system and so on,” she said. 


“The staff at our schools provide education, training and employment pathways as well as advocating for young people, especially those who do not have the support of an adult in their lives at home.”


Delivering a holistic approach to care incorporates a psychologically informed environment where all staff are trained in trauma and using strength-based language in restorative practice. There’s also an emphasis on numeracy and literacy, while Beyond Blue and Headspace services are used to assist students and staff on the topic of anxiety.  


Every student has an Individual Learning Plan, flexible options with the Queensland Certificate of Education, and a transition plan where students are followed up once they leave the school.


A key focus is developing their social-emotional and vocational skills and preparing the students for further training or work. Additionally, the focus is on building resilience and the capacity to manage life skills, from managing a budget and healthy lifestyle to accommodation and navigating Centrelink.


The students have also started a Certificate II in Self Awareness and Development.


“We are encouraging our young people to start thinking about themselves as citizens,” Helen said.


“To think about themselves in terms of being aware of themselves and other people around them, regulating their emotions, and all of those things that we know employers are looking for.” 


Looking to the future, many exciting projects are ahead for the school, which prioritises all students feeling valued, safe, and respected.


“We are very excited about our future projects, which include the development of a community radio station, ‘You’re the Boss’ financial literacy program, Entrepreneurship Development and Barista Training,” Helen said. 


“These initiatives help ensure our school goes from strength to strength and support our students with 21st-century employability skills such as innovation, creativity, decision-making, problem-solving and improved communication.”

Some of the activities and lessons on offer for students at The Salvation Army Independent School.








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