When you don’t do well at school, and letters and numbers don’t come naturally, students can shut down very quickly.
Many find traditional classrooms difficult and are kinesthetic learners – they learn best by doing, rather than watching or listening. They often put up walls around themselves and are less likely to engage with their teacher or peers.
But BB New Zealand (Boys Brigade in New Zealand) has found a way to reach these students by running an innovative woodworking programme called EDGE Workshops.
The practical, hands-on weekly or fortnightly sessions are the brainchild of BB New Zealand National Programme Director Stu Thompson. He, and a team of volunteers, work with a small group of students at each school on woodworking projects like birdhouses, candlestick holders and lamps.
It provides an opportunity for those students (usually boys) to excel, building their confidence in the process.
“Some of these kids don’t do academic very well and they struggle with anything to do with letters or numbers,” Stu says. “Enabling them to use their own hands and creativity via woodworking tools makes all the difference. When they finish a project they have a real sense of achievement and are proud of their efforts which is quite rare for them. There’s that sense of ‘I’m actually doing something valuable’ and there’s a lot of payback for those kids.”
That sense of accomplishment then follows them back into the classroom, with many boys suddenly opening up and becoming more willing to learn.
BB New Zealand National Director Mike Brewer recently visited EDGE Workshop groups in the Bay of Plenty and was astounded by the transformation taking place.
“There was one Tauranga boy who wouldn’t even engage with his teacher or class. But he now wants to learn. The turnaround is that dramatic. Once you fire boys up with a bit of confidence, they’re away. Some boys are so staunch when they first come to EDGE Workshops. They’ve not done well in school and develop a hard shell. But once they get working with their hands, they soften and you can see the boy inside. It’s amazing.”
EDGE Workshops are now held in schools across the Bay of Plenty including Welcome Bay, Gate Pa, Merivale, Tauranga Intermediate and Arataki.
Thanks to a $15,000 grant from BayTrust, and additional funding from TECT and the Acorn Foundation, the programme will now be offered at Tauranga Primary, Golden Sands School and Katikati College from the beginning of Term 3.
Stu says the additional funds are “outstanding” and will make a tangible difference in many students’ lives.
“Some of these schools have been waiting over a year to start with us and it was wonderful to ring them and say funding is secured, we’re on our way. It’s gratifying that funders like BayTrust recognise that what we’re doing in the community is valuable.”
While EDGE Workshops started in Tauranga 12 years ago, they are now offered to over 1000 students in almost 30 schools nationwide, including Auckland, Waikato, Canterbury and Otago.
“I’m very satisfied, very humbled and encouraged because I know that the programme is working and we are making a difference,” Stu says. “And that’s what drives me – the fact that we are serving schools and making a difference in these kids’ lives because some of them are pretty traumatised. Making an impact on a student’s attitude is really what we’re here for.”
Stu believes the low volunteer-student ratio of 1-3 or 1-6 maximum makes a big difference, along with the large amount of positive feedback and affirmation for each student involved.
“Generally it is boys that cause the most challenges for teachers but it’s not about getting them out of their teacher’s hair for the day. These kids are going to excel at something in life and we give them every opportunity to find something that makes a difference. They love it.”
EDGE Workshops are now being offered to adults in the Bay as well, including residential mental health clients. “We had people aged 15 to 60 the other day and they made themselves a workbench with our tools. They were stoked and fully engaged. We are looking at other ways we can partner and collaborate with other community organisations to make a difference for them as well, which is very exciting.”