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Mentoring helps to halt rejection

An award-winning project in Hackney aims to bring disaffected young people back into education, through a combination of mentoring, counselling and short college courses, and may provide an example to Wandsworth.

At a ceremony last week, the first "graduates" from the Dalston Youth Project - none of whom ever tasted success at school - stepped forward proudly to receive certificates celebrating their participation in the scheme.

Young people aged 15-19 are asked to commit themselves voluntarily to the project for one year. They are referred by teachers, probation officers, the police and social services. Most have been excluded from school; all are considered at risk of offending. Most of the students are black and 60 per cent are male.

Project director Sarah Benioff said: "They've been kicked out of every other option in the borough." The form and content of the education offered by the project has been worked out in accordance with students' interests and capacities. The result is a package of short courses in computing, photography, building, caring, literacy and drama at Hackney Community College.

Students also do sports sessions at a local leisure centre, can work on community radio, and have information sessions on sexual health, drugs, law and careers.

Education worker Jane O'Sullivan said: "The idea is to give young people who've dropped out or been excluded the opportunity to ease themselves back into some form of education, in its broadest sense."

Giving young people the opportunity to try a range of subjects, with little pressure on them, works well, said Sarah Benioff. "Usually by the end they're clamouring to give it a try." Sixty per cent of the project's first students are now either in training or education, or working.

A second cycle is now under way, with new students and mentors. Sandra Rose Vender, a 24-year-old travel agent with a degree in youth and community work, is mentor to 16-year-old Lynich.

Sandra Rose was teamed with Lynich partly because of their mutual interest in singing. But initially the relationship was difficult.

"I felt Lynich had so much talent but she had problems with attitude, and a temper I was really concerned about," said Sandra Rose. "Now, we've really gelled. I feel I'm almost like a personal therapist to her, which a teacher can't be."

Lynich said: "Now I'm going round different courses seeing what I want to become."

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