I CAN blossoms in the Sunshine State

G’day folks, and welcome to the next instalment of our blog series where we hear from branches of I CAN Network outside our original Melbourne hub. Our guest this time is James Cifuentes from I CAN Queensland, who’s here to offer a look at how our program is faring in the Sunshine State. Enjoy!

Max Williams, Editor

Chris, Fiona and James with Pat Whinney one of our wonderfully supportive H.O.S.E.S. (Head Of Special Education Services) and an early supporter of I CAN in Queensland.

In 2017 I CAN began a partnership with Education Queensland and it was decided to initiate a trial program in South East Queensland.

While I CAN and Education Queensland put out their feelers for schools that might be interested the hunt for staff began, that’s where Fiona (our Queensland Network Manager) and I came in. Fiona brings years of experience in the education sector, in outdoor education, running school camps and as a specialist teacher visiting schools to help them better support kids with autism. Myself, I’m an entomologist with a passion for teaching kids about science so it was a real pleasure for me to get involved with the I CAN Network. I’ve also experienced how rough school can be for someone with autism and was absolutely stoked to get a chance to help other kids who might be having trouble.

Our trial program began in July last year at 3 schools. One of those schools, Crestmead State School started an Imagination club with 15 students and ran for 15 sessions. Over the course of term 3 and 4 the kids boosted their confidence and team building skills with creative games and activities, and by the end of semester 4 almost all of them had given an “Imagination Creation” presentation talking about their strengths, passions and talents.

Tanika, Scarlet and Tanisha showing off their raspberry tower at our Imagination club end of year celebration at Crestmead.

We also ran two high school programs as part of our trial at Stretton State College and Caboolture State High school. Both schools ran full 10 week programs and we ended up creating really fun filled environments where it’s okay to try new things, even if that means failing a few times before finally succeeding. It was great to see so many of them come out of their shells and give such inspirational I CAN talks. I can’t wait to hear the rest.

Fiona and were also lucky enough to visit Victoria twice last year, first to visit some programs in operation then to attend an I CAN camp. Meeting more of the I CAN team on our first visit and seeing how many successful programs are running and how much they each vary to support their different students and communities was fun and very informative. Seeing young people in their second year of mentoring and learning to become junior mentors themselves was amazing. Our second visit, to the I CAN teens camp in Malmsbury on the 8th of September, was absolutely mind blowing. Seeing so many young people on the spectrum coming into their own and forming friendships was an unprecedented experience and spurred us on to organize our own teen camp for Queensland on April 8th later this year.

Having all the schools so far apart meant a lot of driving For Fiona and I but a big thanks must go out to Chris for travelling up for so many meetings and to be there for the start of the program at all 3 schools.

James, Fiona and Chris in the front row with the rest of the amazing I CAN support network at our end of year celebration in Brisbane.

2017 for I CAN in Queensland culminated with a presentation at the Autism Hub in Brisbane. Fiona and I both spoke about our experiences in the program and so did the 3 H.O.S.E.S. from our schools. We also had 3 students from both of the high school programs give their I CAN talks. It was great to see these teenagers, most of whom had never done any public speaking before, reaching the point where they could present to a large group of adults including senior teachers and principals.

To say that our programs last year were successful would be an understatement. All three schools have asked for new programs with two of them opting to start an additional program each. As well as continuing at our original three schools Fiona and I have already started new programs at Burpengary State Secondary College and Brisbane State High School. With over 40 new schools contacting us and enquiring about programs we’re already on the lookout for more mentors so that we can meet the incredible need that Queensland has for the I CAN philosophy.

Live long and prosper!

James Cifuentes, Queensland Senior Mentor

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