Set on a fully-operational commercial dairying property only 70km from Christian College’s Middle School Highton Campus, Back Creek Farm is now in its 21st year of working with Year 9 students. As we celebrate this milestone, we pause for a few moments to reflect on the many young men and women who have journeyed along with the Staff in this rural setting in Scotsburn.
As an educator, I deeply feel the increasing pace of modern life rushing our adolescents, combined with an increasing number of young people enduring the stress to achieve and keep up with the latest and greatest. However, as students arrive at Back Creek to begin this five-week Rural Studies and Agricultural immersion, I feel the hope returning every time. Back Creek Farm has always aimed to promote and encourage a simple set of principles to guide our teaching and learning outcomes. We aim to immerse and explore the notions of ‘Community’, ‘Service’, and ‘Character’. With these notions deeply imbedded into our Year 9 program, we are able to address the more complex issue of ‘identity’ – our inherent uniqueness and our irreplaceable value in this world.
Resilience is developed and explored by our students through participation in a variety of work groups, all with clear expectations and achievable outcomes.
At Back Creek, we expect each young man or woman to become part of our community and contribute to those sharing this community. We use real-world, hands-on exploration to show students they can achieve things they never considered possible. We love and support our students and also encourage them to be their best and achieve the best they can. Mobile phones, electronic devices and constant feedback from the cyber world are all `checked‘ at the door. We focus on the present day and time, addressing the task before us, and slowly and methodically creating a product that is valuable and visible. The product varies greatly between work teams, yet all work is tangible.
Our students rotate through six different work teams to undertake learning through the experience of ‘doing’ for themselves. These include Milking (1) our 300 Friesian cows in the dairy (beginning at 4.30am, mind you!), or Chefs (2) who create a menu and then cook for the entire community – serving others and then doing the dishes. Farmers (3) do everything from learning to drive the tractors and chopping the wood for hot water, through to caring for the ducks, goats and feeding seasonal silage out to the Dairy and Angus beef cattle herds. If that’s not enough of a challenge, students also rotate into Homesteaders (4) to create jams and chutneys, maintain and explore a family sized-cottage garden plot, pasteurise milk for our community, and keep the homestead clean. Bacon and Eggers (5) have the mandate of poultry and swine-related care, along with ongoing care of the market garden for feeding our students. This team even has a go at learning the graceful art of chain-sawing! The final rotation is based out of the ‘Back Creek Café’ in Meredith. For learning genuine hospitality skills with the honest expectations of real customers, Café (6) is an incredibly empowering exploration of the capabilities of our young people – taking orders at the register, cooking food from the menu, serving customers at the tables, and then cleaning dishes and the premise after service.
Resilience or by its definition, `the ability to bounce back after adversity’, is not natural for us all. For most of us, the developing of resilience is a learned skill, much like riding a bike. When we have trouble with a practical task, with interacting with certain people, or with self-doubt, often, the first reaction is despair. Whereby we criticise ourselves and feel like giving up. At Back Creek, we expect students to encounter challenges and obstacles. We expect it when we set a task that is new and daunting, we expect it when students are physically exhausted but still need to complete their work. While for some, the challenge lies simply in sharing our space with others outside of our family unit.
As Staff, together with the students, we discuss these challenges as a whole community. We run classes based around character and perseverance, we speak of bravery and of being considerate. We speak of forgiveness and of exploring empathy. In small teams, we help students to practically find solutions, to create a range of approaches and then we empower them to work towards autonomy in their daily chores. The true test of growth in our students is when we see the subtle change from self-centredness to awareness and compassion towards others.
These skills and traits cannot be learned or developed if things always go our way. If we have things comfortable and easy, we may never learn how to find creative solutions, explore new perspectives, troubleshoot with our cohorts, or seek guidance from others who may be able to assist. In this modern world, we each are pushed to seek perfection in everything we do and think, and in every depiction of ourselves. Although this is a utopian hope for us all, I fear that our unique and very real humanness sometimes brings us back to a reality that we do not always enjoy facing.
Through undertaking everyday skills and tasks, in a well-supervised and educationally considered community setting, we will learn the many facets of self-discovery and the love for those in our community. We will learn that resilience means that some days we will be spectacular and courageous in the work we do, and that we should share our wisdom with others. This same understanding and study in resilience means that we may be feeling less capable, and that we do have permission to call upon the care and support of those around us for help.
Back Creek Farm is a celebration of people living and working together towards a common goal (Community), of faithful care for God and for each other (Service), and of a greater understanding and acceptance of both ourselves and those around us, whoever they may be (Character). We may experience hardship but through our strengthened and dedicated practice of resilience, we will go onwards into the future. Regardless of the direction we take and the skill set we require we will approach this future with optimism.
Director of Teaching & Learning - Back Creek Farm
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