70. Nancye Harrison

25 Sep


Nancye is positively full of energy as she talks about her work for and with young people. The more I hear, the more I find myself sharing Nancye’s enthusiasm about the importance of helping them stay engaged in education and employment pathways, and making services for young people more supportive and accessible. Her passion for the young people in our community is heartening and it’s inspiring to witness.

For Nancye, it all began in the classroom. Despite her father’s hopes of an accounting career for Nancye, she headed into teaching because she “couldn’t picture herself sitting in an office everyday crunching numbers”.

“I just thought, I love teaching, so maybe I could make it interesting for other young people!” she says.

It seems an open-minded outlook comes naturally to Nancye, as she talks to me about readily adapting her teaching style to the needs of the kids she taught.

“In my first year out of university, I went to a school in the Northern suburbs. I was going to teach like I was taught, in an academic environment – only, English wasn’t [the students’] first language. It was a big shock to me. Not everybody learned by opening the textbook and doing the questions,” Nancye says.

“I really liked the kids, so I totally rejigged the way I taught and made it more engaging,” she says.

Nancye was also eager to “give something else a go” and spent some time in the hospitality industry, then worked for a recruitment agency. However, Nancye soon decided to go back to teaching. At her next job in Coburg, she found herself teaching students from an array of diverse backgrounds.

“It was pretty amazing, pretty interesting,” Nancye says.

“Again, I had to work out how to change my teaching so everyone there had an opportunity to learn because there were big extremes in ability, disadvantage, all sorts of things. So it really became my mission to make sure everyone had an opportunity to do well.

“And to do that, I think, is actually much more rewarding. You inspire those who are academic to do better in those pursuits and for those who are applied learners, you give them an opportunity to learn as well,” says Nancye.

Eventually, this school was closed so Nancye moved to Montmorency Secondary College, becoming the VCAL Coordinator.

“It was awesome!” she tells me.

“I am just amazed at what those young people achieved and still continue to achieve.”

“I’m still in contact with a lot of those students,” Nancye says “Through social media, I’m able to check up on them! Even though they are not my kids, I feel good because I had a bit to do with that, for some of them.”

Nancye’s eagerness to expand the opportunities of young people has led to her becoming Executive Officer of the Banyule Nillumbik Local Learning and Employment Network (LLEN), where she has helped “set up their Workplace Learning Program, so that our kids get experience in industry while they’re still at school”.

“These days, I don’t actually work with young people and I miss it a bit! But I have to be satisfied that what I do makes a difference to young people,” says Nancye.

“I bring people together to make a difference. By bringing people together, through collaboration, the output should be greater. Working with 25 kids in a VCAL class was awesome! It was very satisfying, but here I can bring community agencies and schools together and – hopefully – we’re having an impact on hundreds of kids.”

“Schools are great at being schools, parents are the experts in their own kids, we have industry experts who know what’s going on in their industries, we have the government having a guess about what’s going on! So we’re partnership brokers. If we’re able to bring them together and then share that expertise with schools, with parents and with community, then hopefully we can get some programs up and running that support kids to transition to their next step.”

According to Nancye, industry-based learning is important because “research shows that those who are engaged in education and training will have better long-term outcomes in terms of employment, ongoing employment and earning capacity”.

“We need to look at how we help young people who are experiencing some disadvantage to transition. School can be very supportive. What do you do when you leave school? We need to look at how businesses and schools can come together to support everybody,” says Nancye

Last year, a major event the LLEN helped facilitate was the ‘R.O.K’ (‘Reengage Our Kids’) Forum. Community agencies, youth workers and representatives from schools were amongst those who gathered to discuss challenges preventing students from engaging in education and to devise practical methods for improvement.

“That was really well received. This year, we’re filtering through that information and looking at what we can put in place to help those young people. Some of the information is being funnelled into the Banyule Nillumbik Youth Services Network and they will work on some projects,” says Nancye.

Nancye also chairs the Banyule Nillumbik Youth Services Network, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year.

“It’s so important because, like the LLEN, it’s all about that collaborative effort and it’s about supporting those who, at the grassroots, are working one-on-one with young people who could be really doing it tough and need support,” says Nancye.

The Network has been responsible for some important initiatives, such as research into youth homelessness.

“Because we don’t see kids on the street here, people aren’t often aware that homelessness is an issue. We have huge numbers of kids couch-surfing, kids in their cars, or kids sleeping in other people’s garages. But you can’t stay on someone’s couch for a month.

“We are advocating to State Government to bring resources to Banyule and Nillumbik, to help us with this homelessness issue. We would like to see increased access to crisis accommodation, separate for both boys and girls so they are safe. That resource is very limited… If they have to move into the city, they may have to be in shelters with adults, where other types of harm might become an issue,” says Nancye.

Nancye and the networks she is a part of are working towards some truly wonderful changes in youth services. In particular, Nancye emphasises the importance of wrap-around services that can cater to the diverse needs of young people.

“We can have better communication and links between services – the government can help with that,” Nancye says.

“If someone goes to a service like headspace and goes there to talk about a mental health issue, well if they also at that time specify they’re having trouble with housing, then they should only have to tell their story once. All the services should be networked together so they can work together to solve those sorts of problems.”

Nancye leaves me some final words that convey a strong message of support for young people.

She says, “I think the other thing that has to happen – and youth services can help with this – is celebrating young people. The way we talk about young people has to be positive. Our policies need to be more positive about young people because I have seen – just from teaching young kids – that if you give them some self-esteem, some belief and some support, great things happen.”

Words: Annabelle Pendlebury

Photo: Luca Johns







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