For the Westside Circus Outreach Program, 2017 could be known as The Westside Circus year of the tortoise! In previous years we had laid the groundwork for a shift in approach inspired by the insight that we would have greater ‘wins’ if activities with our target communities were more sustained and longer lasting - moving slowly like the tortoise who wins the race. And in 2017 this is exactly what we did!
We simplified our approach and sharpened our focus to three specific target communities – young people with disability, pre-schoolers and their parents from newly-arrived communities and school aged youth experiencing social disadvantage. We presented only three different projects, but each had between 20 weeks and a full year of face to face contact. Looking back we are very happy to report that the Westside Circus tortoise did win the race, with our new approach resulting in deeper impacts for everyone involved.
02 The Altitude Project
Altitude was the first project that we developed with the long-term model and uses circus to increase opportunity and success for school aged young people experiencing social disadvantage. In 2017 we presented it in three locations – Northern Metro Melbourne, Shepparton and Preston.
The Northern Metro group was the first group we introduced this project to and 2017 was their third year of activities. In the first two terms of the year we presented taster workshops, performances and afterschool workshops at John Fawkner College and Glenroy College, continuing to inspire young people to get involved. In addition we introduced a new and very exciting phase that transitioned students who had been coming along for many years into afterschool workshops at Westside Circus. They were welcomed into the wider Westside circus community and performed at the Westside Circus “Turning 21” birthday celebration show at the Darebin Arts and Entertainment Centre, at the Preston Markets with our performance troupe and at our end of Year Mini FUNdraiser event. We are always keen to bring together young people from our different projects and this was a great step toward a fully integrated circus community.
“I’m forever going to take everything I have learnt with me, in everything I do”
In Shepparton, 2017 was the first year of a three year Altitude project, adapting the model used in Metro Melbourne to this regional context. In this model the Altitude Project has three stages of connection with young people; Excite, Engage and Employ. Working with multiple partners the project offered a range of activities from ‘Excite’ tasters to ‘Engage’ creative developments and weekly programs and ‘Employ’ certification and work experience opportunities. This included in early 2017 being invited by Cirque du Monde, Cirque du Soleil’s social circus arm, to a special back stage tour and workshops with the world famous artists. One of our Shepparton youth was also chosen to participate in our International Youth Exchange program. Our activities in Shepparton also led to us developing a number of significant new relationships including with Shepparton Council and St Paul’s African House, paving the way for an even more dynamic 2018.
For Preston, 2017 was the first toe in the water for our tortoise, with one taster workshop presented with our new partner Preston Reservoir Adult Community Education, setting the stage for the project to hit the ground running in term 1 2018.
In reviewing 2017 we can see a number of positive benefits were experienced by the young people involved in Altitude. They grew in confidence both in and outside school life, in their peer to peer relationships and in their expectations of their own potential. Taking their new skills and presenting them as part of a performance further boosted these positive shifts, with participants responding to this experience with strong feelings of excitement, happiness, and pride. Moving forward into 2018 we are thrilled to have more activities planned in all three locations and look forward to seeing exactly where this takes our young participants.
03 Crafting a Circus Community
Westside Circus has a long standing and very rewarding relationship with Furlong Park School for Deaf Children and in 2017 we presented our most ambitious project yet. This project was designed to see if we could integrate the benefits of the circus program across the wider school experience. We worked for two terms with the students who built their circus skills, and their prowess at teaching these skills to others together with putting them on the stage. Of course at the same time, true to the nature of social circus the young people also developed greater life skills and increased physical wellness. During the two terms the students ran sessions sharing their new skills with their younger peers at the school, as well as performing two shows to the whole school community.
The most exciting part of this project however, was the mini performance tour that the students went on in their local community, performing at three Primary schools and an aged care facility. This experience of performing to an audience they didn’t know was one of the most life changing moments for the young participants – who felt extremely nervous in the lead up but then great happiness at their experience of success. Over the two terms the young participants grew in a number of ways, in particular in their self-confidence amongst friends and strangers and their ability to work with others, their ability to focus, listen and problem solve.
“I think it encouraged them to believe in the possibility of future achievements and increased their belief in their own abilities.”
Another part of ‘Crafting a Circus Community’ at the school was working with the teachers to develop cross curriculum resources using circus as the theme, supporting integrated learning experiences in which the student’s excitement around the circus supported learning outcomes in a range of curriculum areas including literacy, numeracy, history and more.
04 Pages Fly
2017 was also the first year of a multi-year Pages Fly program in Hume. Pages Fly is a project that combines circus skills, art making and story-telling to support early childhood development of newly arrived pre-schoolers. Building on previous project models and inspired by our tortoise theme, in 2017 we stretched the project to present activities across 2 terms as opposed to the single term of previous projects. In partnership with VicSEG New Futures we worked in Roxburgh Rise with an Assyrian Chaldean group of over 25 children and mothers. The program culminated in a morning tea event where we launched the 300 copies of a storybook published using the participants’ art and based on a traditional Assyrian Chaldean Village tale told by mothers in the group and launched.
Being involved in the project supported the pre-schoolers in a number of ways including English language skills, listening, concentrating, working with others, confidence, waiting turns, overcoming fears and physical development. The mothers also benefitted, experiencing increases in their English language capabilities as well as strengthening their social connections and their sense of belonging. Filled with themes common across cultures the published story showed how people have different experiences but mothers all over the world share similar values, and sharing this so publicly made the mothers in the group feel proud and valued. The longevity of these successes was further strengthened as parents and playgroup leaders also learnt new ways to continue supporting the children’s learning.
“For me this is very important. I will never forget this. For me it will be the only time this will ever happen to me in my lifetime.”