With state school students saying farewell to school this week and looking forward to the summer holidays, hundreds of school chaplains across the state will be taking stock of the year that has been and start turning their minds towards the ways in which they can assist their young charges on their return to school in 2019.
It’s a routine ‘Chappy’ Stu Cran has become familiar with, after working with young people for more than 32 years. For the past 13 he has worked at Mountain Creek State High School as a member of the student services team.
“I started out working with teenagers many years ago and had an idealistic view of my role and the results that would come,” he says. “It didn’t take long for me to realise that I can’t hold onto changed lives as a motivation for the daily grind of youth work. People make their own choices, either good or bad. This makes the job a challenging one. Having said all that, I do have a deep sense of appreciation that many students invite me into their story. Sometimes it’s a story that no one else has heard. I also know that there is great responsibility that goes with this.
“I love it when a student ‘gets it’. When they see new possibilities for themselves and others. When they catch the vision for a better world and they get passionate about wanting to change themselves and their community.”
Scripture Union Queensland, which is officially endorsed by the Department of Education, has 600 chappies working throughout the state and they focus their work around six elements including social and emotional support, spiritual support, educational support, extra-curricular activities, mentoring and community development.
Mr Cran liaises with workers from local youth organisations and churches that help with breakfast programs, lunchtime activities and other specialist resilience programs for boys and girl, and he initiated the No Limits and Trek program, where he pulls together a group of girls and a group of boys from Year 10 across a broad range of academic levels, personal and social confidence as well as behavioural reputations to build self-awareness and strengthen self-perception.
“The reason we do this is because for true self-awareness to occur, students need the interaction and feedback from others,” he says. “The group dynamic of working together with people that you don’t know and possibly don’t even like is very powerful. We set up a ‘group deal’, where the students decide how they are going to respect each other and how they will participate together.
“The students create that and we throw challenges at them, where they initially fail. With plenty of good debriefs, the students realise that when they actually respect each other, they can do amazing things together and overcome seemingly impossible tasks.”
Mr Cran says the groups spend seven one-hour sessions together during term two, followed by a day of outdoor activities and ropes courses at Luther Heights campsite at Coolum. The following term, they use the expertise of Sunday Creek Environmental Education Centre to run a three-day trek experience, which starts on the western side of Conondale National Park and finishes at Booloumba Creek campsite around 40 kilometres away.
“The students carry everything on their back and tackle some pretty serious hills. Needless to say, there is always a lot of dummy spitting,” he says.
“Before day one has finished, most students will be telling themselves that they just can’t do it. It’s too hard. This is impossible. I just want to go home. Each night, we have a good debrief where the students evaluate how they went and how the group went. They then set goals for the next day.
“Day two is the hardest and the longest day, yet they normally do it in less time and with less complaining. Day three we tackle Mount Allen from the north side. Very steep and very painful.”
But Mr Cran says each year without fail, the student emerge from the experience as changed people, who are prepared to tackle life head-on with a newfound respect for themselves and those around them.
This is what makes his work, which is often challenging, so rewarding.
“Students can easily lose a sense of hope. For most this is a temporary thing but for some the sense of hopelessness is longer lasting,” he says.
“I love the challenge of helping young people ‘see’ that their life has huge potential and that there is always something to live for. There is always hope. This normally involves looking at their reality differently.
“For some it is looking beyond the hurts of the past. For a growing number of others, it has to do with questions of spirituality, of purpose in life, reasons for being.”
For more information about school chaplaincy services, visit suqld.org.au.