The school of love

Drug addiction and other issues are being confronted in a different sort of classroom

A school campus at Red Door Community Church in Perth is transforming lives of teenagers whose education has been disrupted by family breakdown, drug addiction and/or mental illness.

A month after coming to the school, one 15-year-old girl who had been smoking crystal meth and stealing to support her drug habit became, in her own words, a “happy, bright, fun-loving girl who loves life.”

A 15-year-old boy whose anxiety was so severe he couldn’t sleep began to walk with a more confident step. Another 15-year-old who came to the school as an angry drug addict changed so radically that he became a mentor to other students.

All three have not only thrived in the self-paced education model that involves lots of one-on-one interaction with teachers and mentors, but they have also responded to the school’s Christian ethos of love and forgiveness by giving their lives to Christ.

“This is God’s campus …” – Ben Loughton

“There have been two students baptised at the church weekend; another three are talking about it,” says Ben Loughton, the teacher at the Red Door campus of Alta-1 College.

“The other day one student set up a prayer group at recess and lunch, so I reckon there might be five students that have come to find Jesus and maybe two or three who were Christians first.

“This is God’s campus and we’ve just got to keep our eyes fixed on him because we know that when we do that, he does the work.”

A prime example was the 15-year-old whose anger was continually being triggered inappropriately. “He was probably one of our toughest students coming in, but we were at camp recently and we were sitting around the fire chatting and really trying to love him and provide that space for him to open up,” says Loughton.

The foyer is filled with kids from broken homes

“He fully opened up and spoke about his family issues and drug abuse and the friends he’s hanging around with, and since then he’s actually made a commitment to follow Jesus. It’s been a massive transformation where I think there’s no way I could have done any of this – it’s got God’s fingerprints all over it.”

Adam Meredith, senior minister at Red Door, loves the fact that his foyer is filled with kids from broken homes, most of whom have never been to church before.

“This is an amazing programme that uses the context of education to create a pathway to experience the love of God in the environment. We’ve seen kids who knew nothing about God being baptised.”

The curriculum includes a personal recovery course that helps the students deal with their emotions

Alta-1 College is a government-funded college under the CARE (Curriculum and Re-engagement Education) school model that provides an alternative for students for whom mainstream school is not working. The growing network of 13 campuses in Western Australia and Queensland all operate out of church buildings. Not all students have been expelled but most have a record of non-attendance for various reasons, not always behavioural but sometimes emotional or psychological. The curriculum includes a personal recovery course that helps the students deal with their emotions and understand who are safe people to be with, the vicious cycle and recovery circle, loss and grief, anxiety and depression, and emotional triggers.

“We are able to help them to get through their secondary education. We have teachers and mentors, chaplains that work with these young people to deal with those obstacles that they’re facing and help them to continue in an educational pathway, as well as address those social and emotional issues that they might be facing,” says Mark Godfrey, promotions officer for Alta-1.

“That’s where the Christian ethos comes into play. That’s where the relationship with the church community starts to shine. We are a Christian school and our heart is obviously to see these young people hopefully linked into those spaces with Christian ministries, where applicable. But primarily, our role is to see that young person get through their secondary education.”

The key ingredient in helping the students flourish is love.

As Red Door’s teacher, Loughton works with a chaplain and two education assistants, who all start and finish the day in prayer. He says the key ingredient in helping the students flourish is love.

“At Alta-1 the main thing is, because you spend a lot of one-on-one time with the students, you can demonstrate love to them. So everything we do really comes from that place of loving our students and wanting them to thrive,” he says.

“When I was a phys-ed teacher in a mainstream school I would have maybe 300 students throughout the week. Now, I’ve got 30 students and I spend all day, every day, with them.”

“A lot of the pastors and even the church staff come out and hang with our students …” – Ben Loughton

Another crucial element is the good connection with Red Door Church, where Loughton happens to be a member. “The church is another safe place where, aside from school, they can come, so they’ve got somewhere to hang out on the weekend as well,” he says.

“A lot of the pastors and even the church staff come out and hang with our students during recess and lunch; it’s fantastic to get more adults supporting these students through the tough times and getting them connected into other programmes. When they feel that sense of belonging and that sense of purpose, massive change comes from that.”

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