The village helping to raise Carlton’s children

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By Rachael Fleury

The Carlton Learning Precinct opened in 2020 and was commissioned by the City of Melbourne in partnership with the Department of Education and the Victorian School Building Authority.

It is one of the few centres in Melbourne to have a school, an early learning centre, a kindergarten and Maternal Child Health services all under one roof.

Community facilitator Khadra Omar’s work with the Carlton community started more than 20 years ago when she began working for the City of Melbourne’s Family Services team in early intervention and planning. These days, she works for Our Place, an initiative at the Carlton Learning Precinct, which provides education, health and development support to local children and their families.

Ms Omar said she was attracted to working for Our Place because of the organisation’s strong focus on working directly with the community. 

“We refer to our role as being the bridge and the glue. So, we’re the bridge for families to cross over to find the support they need, and we’re the glue that keeps the infrastructure together so that it works really well for the families,” she said.

In 2017, following the success of the pilot program at Doveton College in south-east Melbourne, Our Place signed a deal with the Department of Education to roll out its program to 10 other schools across the state, including Carlton Primary School. The refurbishment project won the “Best School Project Above $10 million” category in the 2020 Victorian School Design Awards.

Lord Mayor Sally Capp said the Carlton Learning Precinct was the first integrated children and family centre in the City of Melbourne municipality, and it enabled services to work together to improve outcomes for local children and families.

 

“Although we’re pleased the precinct has been recognised for its design and service model through several awards – most importantly, it delivers holistic programs to our community to improve health and education outcomes,” Cr Capp said.

 

Ms Omar said in her 20 years spent working in Carlton, the area had never been as “coordinated and interactive”. She said although there had always been “amazing” services available, they were often “siloed”, and it was hard for families to navigate all the different parts of the system.

“Carlton is so diverse, and it’s a really nice, warm community. There’s the saying that it takes a village to raise a child. We are creating that village and a sense of community for families. That’s what I love about this job; we’re making access to services easier for families,” Ms Omar said.

Local Carlton parent Amy Lees has a five-year-old and a two-year-old at the Carlton Learning Precinct. She said it was an “amazing practical benefit” having all the services in one place.

“This is the only site around here that enables you to drop off your older child at school and then drop your younger one at day care at the same site,” she said.

Fellow parent Aisha Darawish said she not only valued the convenience of having all the services on one site, but the quality of services on offer.

“My little one goes to kinder, and my older one goes to school. My son really loves the school. To be honest, I never could have imagined just how much he loves it,” she said.

Our Place collaborates with other local organisations, including the YMCA, Carlton Neighbourhood Learning Centre and the Brotherhood of St Laurence, to bring programs to the learning centre, including an after-school program. 

Sally Beattie, another Our Place community facilitator, said the after-school programs came about after a consultation process with local parents to find out what they thought the community most needed.

“There are four different after-school programs on offer: The Brotherhood of St Lawrence offer an after-school learning program; The YMCA offers basketball; Melbourne City Football run a soccer program, and there’s also there’s a group of young women who run an anti-racism program,” she said.

“Some of the children who have gone on to one of the local high schools are coming back to the primary school and are sharing their experiences and how they cope with the younger children. They’re being mentored to become facilitators in their own way. That’s a beautiful program,” she said.

Julie Large has been the principal of Carlton Primary School since 2006. She described the Carlton Learning Precinct as a “one-stop-shop” for families, which offered “seamless” transitions between kinder and school.

“We have amazing facilities; most people don’t realise we have over a hectare of sporting facilities and nature play spaces. We’d love local residents to come and look at the Carlton Learning Precinct and the school,” she said.

Ms Large said the most significant improvement she’d noticed from having the Our Place community facilitators on site was in helping families access services.

“We’re lucky to live in Melbourne, where we’ve got really good support services, but often families just don’t know where to look. Our Place supports our community to get the best of what’s available to them,” she said.

Ellen Sandell, Greens State MP for Melbourne, has a long history of working with Carlton Primary School.

She said the learning precinct’s programs to support kids and families were “innovative” and that she would continue to work with them to make sure they had all the funding required for all these programs.

“Carlton Primary is a really wonderful school and I was so pleased to support the funding they received. Schools aren’t just places that kids go during the day, they’re hubs for the whole community, and Carlton Primary is one of the best examples of that.” •

 

 

 

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