Over the past 10 years, ACU’s Solomon Islands Community Engagement Program has seen groups of pre-service teachers travel to the Solomon Islands each year to teach in local schools and make a real impact within the local community.
This year the team behind the program has been recognised with a Vice-Chancellor’s Staff Excellence Award for Excellence in Community Engagement.
Dr Renata Cinelli, Vice-Chancellor Professor Greg Craven and Dr Mellita Jones.
Deputy Head of School of Education VIC Ballarat Dr Mellita Jones and Lecturer (Health and Physical Education) Dr Renata Cinelli, say the program has been such a success because of the relationships developed with the two partner schools in the Solomon Islands.
“It’s an ongoing, sustained and respectful relationship,” Dr Jones said, “We learn so much from them and we’re able to give back so much.”
Each year Dr Jones and Dr Cinelli travel to the Solomon Islands with a group of pre-service teachers from across ACU campuses. The students complete their teaching placement or community engagement unit and work with local teachers to enhance teaching pedagogy and primary school children’s learning.
Alongside teaching in the schools, the pre-service teachers also fundraise and bring with them a range of resources including literature, sports equipment and art supplies to distribute to both partner schools and other local schools.
The partner schools have reported enhanced teaching and learning, improved literacy results, increased student enrolments and increased retention rates into senior secondary schooling.
Through fundraising, ACU students have also been able to fund construction of a library at one of the schools and this year will assist with shelving for the library.
“We really work with the community to ensure we’re able to direct our fundraising towards the things they need and want,” Dr Cinelli said.
The benefits of the program also extend to the pre-service teachers who participate.
“The program has a huge impact on the students who participate,” Dr Cinelli said. “They have an enhanced willingness and sense of responsibility, as global citizens, to use their skills and experience to benefit others.”
Dr Cinelli and Dr Jones say they too have been deeply impacted by the program and their work in the Solomon Islands.
“The program has become a significant part of my job, my personal life and my outlook,” Dr Cinelli said.
I feel so fortunate to be part of something so amazing and it’s impossible for that passion not to become a part of the way I look at the world now.”
To further their impact the pair will be using a portion of the $2500 prize money to fund further research into the outcomes of the program and will contribute the remainder towards a charity Dr Jones has established.
The Esther Education Foundation is named after a young girl Dr Jones met in the Solomon Islands in 2010, her first year of involvement in the ACU program.
“She was 16-years-old, and her father tried to marry her to a 60-year-old man in a neighbouring village to settle a dispute between the villages. She objected and was subsequently disowned by her family, and her whole village,” Dr Jones said.
Isolated from her community and living on her own, Esther struggled to find someone to sponsor her to finish her education. Ultimately, she found a sponsor who supported her to complete her high school education and teaching diploma and she is now a teacher and leader in her community.
The Esther Education Foundation has been established to honour the courage and perseverance of Esther and will raise funds to sponsor girls and women in developing countries to receive an education. The foundation will be launched in November in the Solomon Islands.
Dr Jones said it was very meaningful for the team to be acknowledged with a Vice-Chancellor’s Staff Excellence Award.
“It’s not the personal recognition, but the recognition of the program itself that is most meaningful to me,” Dr Jones said. “I’ve been advocating for and leading this program for almost 10 years and I can see that we are making real, sustained and positive change in people’s lives, and they in ours.”
Dr Cinelli and Dr Jones will travel with 20 ACU pre-service teachers to the Solomon Islands in November for the 2018 program.