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5 min read

Keeping kids connected: How Homework Clubs are meeting the Covid-19 challenge

Profile of Rebecca Bridges
Written by Rebecca BridgesPosted on 1/9/2020

The Centre for Multicultural Youth (CMY) has been a long-time partner of the Australian Communities Foundation (ACF) and the giving community. The Homework Clubs program is made up of more than 350 Homework Clubs across Victoria catering to 6000 students weekly.

Homework Clubs, put simply, are after-school programs providing kids from ages 6 to 18 with a space for learning, building social connections and finding the joy in learning.

Since 2016, a total of $1,113,765 has been distributed to Homework Clubs in Victoria through the ACF giving community, funding which has been facilitated by the Homework Clubs Partnership Fund.

Emily Wraight, the Education Program Officer at CMY, recently shared her reflections on how the Homework Clubs have flourished since their beginnings in 2016, what has kept them going throughout the pandemic and the road ahead.

“Our vision overall is to really empower young people from multicultural and refugee backgrounds to be able to fully participate in life, education and society,” explains Emily.

At CMY, this vision is pursued from a few different angles: “Right from the direct casework with young people through to research, advocacy and policy development.”

For Homework Clubs, the focus is on the students’ experiences and how these shape their education.

“The social connections that they develop in the Homework Clubs is a hugely important factor,” Emily explains.

“They feel relaxed, they feel safe, they feel, you know, heard and valued in a place, so then they can actually engage with what’s happening.”

“I’ve actually seen a number of projects that have done really great family engagement work and have been able to empower parents to feel like they can be supportive of learning at home, despite the barriers they might face.”

The benefits don’t stop with the students, however, there is an army of volunteers, coordinators, and of course families, that are involved in the program.

“Something that we don’t talk about enough is how Homework Clubs really work to engage families and the wider community to feel included and to feel supported.”

“I’ve actually seen a number of projects that have done really great family engagement work and have been able to empower parents to feel like they can be supportive of learning at home, despite the barriers they might face.”

As the Homework Clubs program has taken off, “We’ve been able to home in on areas where there’s really high need, it’s really responding to things, areas where there’s high settlement, for example, or regional areas or growth areas,” Emily says.

“For the sustainability of this program, we need to be able to provide support across the state and help more programs to start in places where there is high demand.”

This is coupled with the need for ongoing, long-term support that can sustain the programs and those involved.

“What is also crucial is the program development and having the ability to dream and innovate and plan beyond 12 months.”

“The real work happens when you build relationships over many years. It can often take that long for a young person to feel comfortable in a program to feel connected and valued.”

“What is also crucial is the program development and having the ability to dream and innovate and plan beyond 12 months.”

“There’s a real shared understanding of the value of these programs across ACF and CMY,” Emily says, “It’s a very genuine partnership, and it’s reassuring that we’ve got the same reasons for driving it and making it sustainable, which I think has been a really key factor in the success.”

When Covid-19 hit, “Our coordinators had to do a huge amount of learning very quickly about what to do and how to do it. Then there was developing all the new processes and guidelines, training staff and volunteers. Of course, this was coupled with students, schools and families all dealing with their own, you know, transitions.”

While this was a whirlwind at first, “We’re finding now in the second lockdown that clubs are more settled and more setup for virtual learning.”

It wasn’t only the Homework Clubs acting with agility, “A lot of clubs in the ACF program reallocated their funding to be able to provide food or material support for families as well during this time. I think that speaks to this idea that Homework Clubs are not just about the learning support.”

Although, much like with regular schooling, the Homework Clubs met new challenges with virtual learning. “We definitely noticed the digital divide. We heard a lot from schools as well about large families from migrant and refugee backgrounds, with, you know, six or seven kids all sharing one device and then the priority of course, goes to the eldest sibling; those kind of situations are very common.”

“For the students it’s been a really important way of staying connected to their peers and tutors, who they’re used to seeing every week in person, so it’s been an important way of maintaining those connections and a sense of continuity.”

Ursula Cliff, who is a Project Support Officer with CMY, says “Families have been struggling with distance learning, for a number of reasons – lack of access to technology, low levels of literacy which means they can’t help kids with schoolwork, communicating with schools – and Homework Clubs have been a crucial form of support for them.”

“For the students it’s been a really important way of staying connected to their peers and tutors, who they’re used to seeing every week in person, so it’s been an important way of maintaining those connections and a sense of continuity.”

Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, Homework Clubs have soldiered on, stood by their students, and grasped the new virtual way of life with both hands.

“For all the things that we complain about in COVID, there are so many things that we should harness from this time,” Emily says optimistically, “Like getting Homework Clubs to have a wider reach online. We’re able to reach more coordinators and volunteers with our training and our support through an online format now, which we started doing as part of this process.”

Of course, this all comes back to Homework Clubs’ appetite “to innovate, to grow, to try new things and to reach more young people.”

“There’s a real opportunity right now for more investment in and capacity-building through the Homework Clubs. Something that we’re going to find – not just because of education, but also as more families struggle financially – is that we need the free educational support that the Clubs offer.”

Get in touch if you would like to discuss how you can support Homework Clubs into the future. You can also learn more about the Homework Club Partnership Fund in this comprehensive report.


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