As previously mentioned, Wodonga TAFE has provided training options specifically for students with mental health issues for over 12 years now. The Student named programme and training course, River 2 Recovery ( We can thank student Will for the name), started as ‘the boat project’ and quickly developed into something much broader than building boats and ‘the river experience’. Students developed confidence through a guided self-directed learning model of teaching. This method did not develope over night but followed years of success through education bridging courses run at Wodonga TAFE. The group bonding in R2R was achieved via commonality within the group with most (not all) being members of St Luke’s rehab services and a process of inclusion and building on individual strengths. Individuals are ‘targeted’ and encouraged to interact with others through often simple exercises that facilitate communication. Students were well aware that the expectation of the group would be more than building boats, it would be sending out a personal and group message that mental illness is normal and common and despite the label people can still achieve. Assertive follow-up of students was a must. ie;- it was put to me by a worker that I wouldn’t get one student to class in the winter as the student likes staying in bed. With a few personal phone calls and words of encouragement the student gained close to full course attendance. Not all ended up rowing and starred on TV but we had many quiet achievers working behind the scenes and in the class room over the two years. I recall when we started it was suggested that the project wouldn’t go ahead because the local mental health service felt Water + Mental illness is not possible, too risky. I wrote a letter highlighting that part of the students progress over 2 years was that risks would be assessed and the group would determine with expert advise if it was going to be possible or not. Even though we made this point at the start of the TAFE course ‘ the organisation’ still made a blanket dicision before consulting the students that the trip would need to be a short one, not the full length of the Murray. As it turned out the R2R group were accepting of the decision and understood the reasons given but they were somewhat resentful about not being consulted. As the group progressed well into the first year of planning St luke’s appointed a project manager, and a reasonable balance was found between mental health agency organisational needs and independent student planning. I understand consumer planning continues about future boat projects with members of St Luke’s, I hope the freedom we developed in the decision making process continues and is complimented by using local input and expertise.
Next year Wodonga TAFE will continue to provide vocational training via our REAL Options courses for students who have experienced mental health difficulties. 2014 has been successful despite some students having health issues. The Parkland’s project was very productive with some members moving on to higher study and making commitments to voluntary and paid employment.