Student mentors making a difference in youth health education

When RMIT students take to the classroom as volunteer mentors for an innovative health education charity, youth and community reap the benefits.

Student mentors from RMIT have been praised for their initiative and impact on a health education program in Melbourne’s western suburbs.

As volunteers for Community Health Advancement and Student Engagement (CHASE), they’ve been helping to deliver the miniCHASE program to 15 to 17-year-old students at Victoria University Secondary College in St Albans.

CHASE aims to improve health literacy among disadvantaged students by implementing a peer mentoring program with partner secondary schools over a full academic year. The miniCHASE program allows schools  to get a taste of what it’s like to have the full program run in their school.

At Victoria University Secondary College, the RMIT student mentors have delivered a series of workshops to help students increase their knowledge of health issues around nutrition, drugs and alcohol.

The students are now working together to develop and implement a community-based project, and will present the outcomes at a celebration event in October.

First-year Bachelor of Social Work student Gina Kousal joined the program as a volunteer mentor so she could do something outside her own experiences to date, and was motivated by CHASE’s use of education as a way to alleviate poverty and disadvantage.

“It’s something I haven’t done before,” Kousal said. “Being a part of the classroom and their lives, and making friendships with the students has been rewarding.”

Kousal initially found it challenging to be a leader and authority figure, and to make sure students listened and engaged with the learning. But as time has gone on she’s become more comfortable in the classroom and even seen a glimpse of a possible future career direction.

“I really enjoyed the teacher or educator role,” she said.

“So maybe some time in the future I could see myself working as a facilitator or educator in social work.

"I’m also really inspired by the way the organisation works, and the potential to develop a new social enterprise in the future using a similar model.”

This is the first time CHASE has worked with RMIT to recruit student mentors, and Jacinta Martin, Senior External Relations Manager at CHASE, has been impressed with the results.

Martin collaborated with RMIT’s Equity and Diversity and Industry Business Development teams to put out a targeted call to students. From 90 expressions of interest, they interviewed 45 students to select the final 22 mentors accepted into the program.

“The candidates have all been of a really high calibre,” Martin said. “The teachers are really impressed with them – they are engaged, take initiative and they’re relatable and very easy going, which is so important.”

The partnership between CHASE and RMIT is set to continue in 2018, with organisers currently exploring the potential for students who volunteer as mentors to gain formal recognition for their achievements, through micro credentialing or other formal employability initiatives run by RMIT.

Story: Yvette Hollings

27 September 2017

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27 September 2017

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