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Australia How one school program turned Zachary's life around

03:07  20 september  2020
03:07  20 september  2020 Source:   abc.net.au

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Zachary Mayes has had 16 casts on his clubfoot since 2017, but he never thought a program at his school in south-west Sydney would help him reach personal goals as well as academic ones . Zachary Mayes can clearly remember the best day of his life .

I ’ve got this. Since young my grades have not been fantastic; I even have to drop subjects and also on the near edge of repeating my junior year in high school because of my grades. But gradually, I improved in my senior year. Subsequently in coll

a little girl posing for a picture: Lana Mayes never expected what her son was learning at school to benefit his medical journey. (ABC News: Kathleen Ferguson) © Provided by ABC News Lana Mayes never expected what her son was learning at school to benefit his medical journey. (ABC News: Kathleen Ferguson)

Zachary Mayes can clearly remember the best day of his life.

The 10-year-old from Campbelltown, in Sydney's south-west, was pushing through pain to claim victory in his primary school cross-country race earlier this year.

"Last year I came first equal in the cross-country so my goal for this year was to win," he said.

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"It felt like it was the best day of my life."

Life has been harder for Zachary than most.

He lives with a condition called clubfoot, meaning he was born with his left foot turning inwards.

He has had 16 casts and has undergone several corrective treatments after he began relapsing when he started school at Campbelltown's Elderslie Public School in 2017.

He and his family have developed a special bond with the school after Zachary got far more out of its learning practices than they expected.

The school has borrowed and repurposed ideas from other schools across NSW, Victoria and South Australia which have all been networking as part of a pilot program for about five years.

Fifty schools are in the program, which is designed to help promising students in low socio-economic areas reach their potential.

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At Elderslie, it has meant adopting more student-led learning practices that were being used in South Australian schools.

"Before the [cross-country] run my foot was really tight but I was gritty and kept going even when it was hard. I was positive and believed in myself," Zachary said.

Zachary employs life-size alien characters developed by the students to help in class, the hospital when he was getting treatment, and in day-to-day life.

His favourite characters are Blazer the Brave and Go-Go Gritty, which represent bravery and resilience.

His mother, Lana, was not expecting doctors to be asking her what her son was doing to remain so positive during treatment.

"It has made such a huge difference to how he's approached the challenges that clubfoot has thrown at him," Ms Mayes said.

"It gives me a lot of confidence to think about his future and all of these really positive associations that he has now built with his clubfoot."

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At school , his grades began to slip. He acted up in class, wound up getting suspended and desperately needed help getting back on the right course. Enter Coach Khali and the Downtown Boxing Gym Youth Program .

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The first in-depth evaluation of the network program, created by Social Ventures Australia, has shown promising results, including improved teacher satisfaction and student engagement and learning.

It found linking these schools from different education systems led to 100 per cent of participating principals reporting they had gained an improved knowledge of effective learning practices.

The program's leader Suzanne Cridge said no one should receive a lesser education based on their postcode.

"We are talking about connecting the good work that sits across the Australian landscape across multiple states then actually allowing it to grow together so that it has a greater influence across a broader part of the system," she said.

But the benefits Zachary has experienced go far beyond the realms of literacy and numeracy.

"When I think about them [the aliens] it is easier to be like them and choose stuff I want to do with my club-foot," he said.

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