Glamourous year 12 graduation for young mums in Kurnai Young Parents Program in Morwell

Seven young mums celebrated completing year 12 this week with a glamorous graduation ceremony at the Latrobe Valley Flexible Learning Option in Morwell.

Since its establishment in 2014, the Kurnai Young Parents Program, run by Kurnai College, has assisted dozens of young women to complete their schooling by obtaining VCAL and VET certificates while raising their babies and toddlers.

The program assists the young women with everything from financing transport to day care, and allows the young mums to bring their children into the classroom in a supportive and flexible environment.

“We have students aged 14 to 20 who are young parents, or they come back to school either pregnant or with their baby and study with us”, Ange Bolding, leader of the Kurnai Young Parents Program said.

“For the VCAL certificate, the VCAA certificate, they need to study literacy and numeracy, work-related skills, and personal development”, she said.

Most young women complete the program within a couple of years around their parental responsibilities, although some complete their studies within a year.

The young women make friends, build support networks, and learn skills to work through problems and take control of their unique situations.

“We aim to make the girls feel valued and supported and try to incorporate life skills like cooking and some mindfulness activities like craft,” Ms Bolding said.

“We do have a big focus on self-esteem and self-empowerment as well.”

She said it was always challenging being a young mum, so the effort and discipline required to be able to study and achieve a Year 12 Certificate was to be applauded.

Support leads to sustainable engagement
With three children under the age of three years old, 20-year-old Taylor Atkinson has had a lot to contend with in her short life.

But by setting her mind on her studies, she has managed to lift herself out of a state of depression and anxiety to create a better future for herself and her young family.

Her advice for others who may find themselves in a similar slump was to “focus on something you love doing to distract your mind”.

“A year ago, I was pretty down in the dumps. Now I’m achieving so many things. I’m pretty proud,” she said.

“The program’s been amazing, they support you through everything. If you need time away to sort your life out, they give you that. I’m actually just grateful for being able to complete year 12.”

Describing herself as being a troubled teenager, Ms Atkinson wants to give back to the local community by working in youth residential care and pursuing her side aspirations as a makeup artist.

“I’ll be going to TAFE next year to complete my residential care course, so I can help troubled kids like I once was,” she said.

Other career aspirations among this year’s seven graduates included working in aged care, nursing, and working in the automotive industry.

“A lot of the girls, because they’ve had assistance within the community, a lot of them are interested in residential care or community services,” Ms Bolding said.

Flexibility, the key to commitment
Nicholas Try, campus principal of the Latrobe Valley Flexible Learning Option, believed flexibility was the key to retaining people in education, training, and the workforce with the pressures of the modern world.

He said the Kurnai Young Parents Program team had managed to prevent numerous girls from falling through the cracks and find future pathways into further education and work opportunities.

“If you think about where the need is in the Latrobe Valley, and where we’re really short of workers, it’s in the healthcare space, it’s in childcare,” Mr Try said.

He attributed the success of the program to intense and targeted support, an understanding of the challenges of being a young parent, and being accommodating to the care responsibilities and personal circumstances of every student.

“It’s OK to do things a little bit differently,” he said.

Mr Try said mainstream educational institutions and businesses were now recognising flexibility as a means of retaining people, keeping them happy, and on an even keel.

“It’s about trusting that people will do the work that they need to do, in a different way”, he said.