Xavier High School launches Uncle Pete’s Workshop in Term 2, 2017

JETT Astill likes to see what happens when he works with wood.

He chisels painstakingly at a piece of pine until he suddenly steps back to check his progress.

“It’s fun to see what happens,” he enthuses.

Every Thursday lunch-time the Aspect Riverina student, 13, joins his peers and Xavier High School students in the school’s workshop to create projects and forge connections.

Amid the cacophony of mallets, chisels and the lathe turning a rolling pin, it’s soon clear much more than timber is taking shape here.

Xavier High School counsellor Dr Anthony Perrone and workshop teacher Pete Williams put their heads together to deliver the program for the first time about six weeks ago.

A new Lunch Box Session activity, Uncle Pete’s Workshop follows on the heels of the school’s weekly Digital Incubator.

Workshop teacher Mr Williams says the sessions attract a diverse group of students – including half a dozen girls – who get different things out of it.

“It provides an opportunity for the kids who may be looking for a creative space,” he says.

“We have a number of kids who come from the Aspect school on campus and they have embraced it wholeheartedly.”

Aspect Riverina Xavier coordinator Sue McLaurin says her students flourish in the workshops.

“Our students have difficulties with communication and social skills; the workshop is the perfect place for role-modelling based on their interactions here,” she says.

“It makes a difference for the boys to have some male role models.

“The students are starting to feel different at this age and they feel they have a real community here, which helps in all sorts of ways including transitioning.”

Uncle Pete’s Workshop will also provide opportunities for indigenous students who might be struggling with issues of identity and cultural disconnection.

As one of the organisers for the school’s annual immersion program to the Northern Territory for the past seven years, Mr Williams says the workshop has an indigenous bent.

He says at the moment they are making a model surfboard on which they will burn an indigenous design.

“We want to advocate for the indigenous kids in the school,” he says.

“Before the immersion program we had very few kids who identified as indigenous and now we have a community of kids.

“So the program is about inclusion but it’s also about educating people about our country and our indigenous history.”

Indigenous liaison officer Darren Wighton will consult while specialist craftspeople and local elders will be invited to attend.

Dr Perrone says the workshops provide a welcoming space for students to engage and collaborate with like-minded peers to share their ideas and skills.

“It’s all-inclusive,” he says.

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