Business program adds polish

South Sydney High students.

South Sydney High School has embraced social entrepreneurship to boost the self-esteem and expectations for success of disengaged young people.

The school is bringing students together with successful business people as mentors, under the auspices of the Beacon Foundation and with financial support from United Way (both non-profit organisations).

South Sydney High, one of 22 NSW public high schools with Beacon programs, began with the Polish program in Term 4 last year for 19 Year 9 students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Lesley Borenstein, a visual arts teacher and coordinator for the programs at the school, said the students were taught how to present themselves for an interview, how to speak at an interview, how to have lunch and engage socially with people in the business world.

Their newfound skills were put to the test at a recent breakfast for 60 members of the local business community and public sector organisations. Student Beacon ambassadors, who were chosen after they applied and were interviewed for the job, acted as MCs.

Attendees were invited to sign up for programs including a charter agreement requiring Year 10 students to commit to further study or go into the workforce. Another opportunity includes an interview program where business mentors help students hone their job interview skills. Both these programs will take place later this year.

"Life is about the journey we take and the people we meet along the way," Ms Borenstein said. "The students are being given many wonderful opportunities to meet and be mentored by a wide range of highly motivated corporates and the government sector.

"It is a win-win situation for all involved. This is tremendously exciting and liberating and I am fortunate to be part of the journey."

Student ambassador Alison Carr said the program made her realise she could "achieve anything if I put my mind to it and have a successful career in the future".

Another student ambassador, Natasha Riddoch, said the program gave her "connections to business people" full of "advice and encouragement".

South Sydney High principal Ross Fitzpatrick said building links with local business would "enable us to better assist students in their school to work planning".

He hoped the Beacon programs would lead to "better engagement for some of our students who do not want to be at school, particularly since the change to the school leaving age".

This would include increased attendance at school; better schoolwork completion rates and fewer students receiving academic warnings; and increased understanding by students that working with staff would lead to better outcomes for them as individuals, he said.

Sydney regional director Dr Phil Lambert said the Beacon Foundation's programs had "enhanced our region's overall engagement and attainment strategy, where we have examined the strategies and environments that engage and re-engage students as they make their way through schooling".

Photo: South Sydney HS student Beacon ambassadors. Photo by Lesley Borenstein.

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