Giving students a better chance to be their best

With a determination to support young people needing a positive alternative to mainstream education, Tom Witenden has found a perfect fit as principal of Cire Community School Berwick.

He says the opening of Cire’s coeducational secondary campus at Berwick at the start of 2021 is particularly exciting because it provides access to the only specialist school of its kind in the City of Casey and the surrounding region.

With established campuses at Yarra Junction and Mount Evelyn, Cire Community School is a choice for young people who are at risk of disengaging from their schooling or have already done so. Cire is a recognised leader in the specialist education sector with its trauma-informed approach.

Tom is passionate about holistic education that has an evidence-based approach catering to the individual needs of each student and the social, emotional and behavioural aspects of their development.

“Cire Community school was a natural fit for me as it really ties in with my core values of assisting those who are most vulnerable to make positive changes. As an independent school of choice, Cire provides an educational setting that enables young people to develop the skills and self-awareness to make positive contributions to their communities,” Tom explains.

Cire enjoys a strong track record for engaging students who have previously struggled in mainstream settings due to a raft of different reasons. Some have not attended school for up to 18 months or more before enrolling at Cire. Successful outcomes include students transitioning to TAFE and further education, employment including apprenticeships and traineeships, and returning to mainstream school.

With specialist wellbeing teams and dedicated staff on each campus, each student is respected as an individual with unique needs. Each student has an individual learning plan to enable them to achieve at their own pace and in their own way.

Cire’s campuses offer a welcoming and inclusive environment to ensure students have a sense of belonging, purpose and growth, and are supported in their learning, wellbeing and life goals.

According to Tom, vulnerable students and their families find it increasingly difficult to navigate “mainstream education”. Cire provides viable options and realistic career pathways that may not have been accessible or available in the past.

“Previous generations have been let down by a lack of understanding and a lack of options, and it is the alternative educational settings that we see today that are ensuring that these same patterns are not repeated.”

Tom finds it extremely rewarding, both professionally and personally, to see young people make positive changes which in turn give them options that they may not have had if they had continued on their original trajectory.

“It is wonderful to see the difference this can make to families, and the joy, and relief, to see their child develop and grow with optimism for a positive future,” adds Tom.

“It is such a pleasure to hear from families, particularly at the end of the year, about how their children have progressed since being part of an alternative educational setting. Often there is a proclamation of disbelief that schools like this exist, why they are not more common, or how they wished they had found the school sooner.”

Originally pursuing a career in Finance, Tom soon recalibrated to requalify and find his niche in specialist education. An initial setting that catered for children with ADHD, high functioning ASD and other associated social, emotional and behavioural challenges confirmed he had made the right decision.

“The most important aspect of a career is to feel as though you are making a positive contribution, and education provides me with that opportunity.  Seeing young people develop, grow, make positive changes and then step out into society with a sense of purpose and meaning is extremely rewarding,” Tom says.

“When we talk about positive outcomes for students, nothing is more satisfying than seeing a young adult turn up early at school one morning,  after they have graduated, in a crisp, clean work uniform, smiling from ear to ear, so proud that they are ready to start their first day as a new apprentice, chef, or whatever it may be. Thinking back to where these students have come from, it is the reason teachers do what they do.”

Cire’s new Berwick campus benefits from the supporting infrastructure and networks of Cire Services Inc., one of the largest not-for-profits in the Yarra Ranges and unique to the region.

In addition to the Community School, Cire’s core operations are Children’s Services which includes long daycare and integrated and other family support services, Community Hubs, and Training; an award-winning Registered Training Organisation (RTO).

Another article worth reading about our Berwick campus – Cire Community School Expands to Berwick

Click here to find out more about Cire Community School.

It’s official, we now cater for year 7, 8, 9 and 10

Cire Community School (formerly Yarra Valley Community School) has been operating as a registered senior secondary school for the last two years, from our Mt Evelyn and Yarra Junction campuses. We are very pleased to announce that from the start of the 2017 school year, we will be accepting enrolments in Years 7, 8, 9 and 10, in addition to our existing VCAL programs.

The curriculum at Cire Community School is designed to cater specifically for vulnerable students, those who have experienced barriers to completing their education and young people at risk of disengaging with school. We aim to provide a supportive learning environment for each student that builds self-regulatory and relational capacities through a therapeutic approach to teaching and learning that is grounded in the research backed, Berry Street Education Model. The school provides students with a planned and structured program to equip them with the knowledge, skills and attitudes needed to complete their schooling and to make a successful transition from school to work, training or further education.

The school creates learning experiences that engage students, while maintaining a strong emphasis on the development of key literacy, numeracy and ICT skills. Integrated units of work and a project based learning approach, provide students with an opportunity to explore their interests and passions and learn more about their community. As a result, teaching and learning resources are varied and often involve creating hands-on experiences through partnerships with the local community and interaction with the natural surroundings.

At Cire Community School we do things differently. All classes from 7 to 12 are modelled on a primary school structure, whereby students have the one classroom and one teacher for the majority of their core study at a particular year level. This enables the development of strong and positive relationships between the teacher and students and between students within the peer group, facilitating a safe and supportive learning environment.

Now with 115 students across two campuses the future looks bright in 2017 as we become a Year 7 to 12 school and continue to explore flexible and innovative ways of engaging the young people of the Yarra Ranges in their learning journeys. Cire would like to thank the community for their feedback and contribution which played a big part in successfully extending the education levels at the Yarra Junction campus.

Need to know more? Year 7 to 9 orientation sessions over the coming weeks for students considering attending our school in 2017. The sessions will be held at our Yarra Junction campus, 39-41 Little Yarra Rd, Yarra Junction. Additional orientation sessions will be held in late January and early February 2017.

The dates and timing of the orientation sessions are as follows:
Monday 12th December 9:30 to 11:30am
Thursday 15th December 9:30 to 11:30am

Parents/carers are encouraged to contact the school on 1300 835 235 for further information and to book into one of the orientation sessions.


Ready, Steady, Participate!

On 25th of August, students from Cire Community School went to Duncan McKinnon Reserve in Murrumbeena to compete in an interschool athletics day. This was the first opportunity that our students have had to compete with other schools in an athletics carnival.

The day was organised by the Berry Street School, with four schools invited to participate. There were representatives from Caulfield Park, the Berry Street School and St. Joseph’s Flexible Learning Centre which all cater for students with similar backgrounds to our own students.

“It was nice to see all the schools getting together.”Tess

On the day, the township of Mt Evelyn experienced torrential rain and hail storms but luckily the sun was shining in Murrumbeena and all the events were able to run on time.

The day got off to a great start when senior students Matt Geale took gold and Jarryd Furneaux took bronze in the long jump. Matt won the event easily by jumping 35cm further than his nearest opponent.

Another outstanding moment for Matt Geale was when he volunteered at the last minute to run in the 100m sprint and finished third in the final to score bronze.

Foundation student Marie Hoffman won 6 ribbons over the course of the day, including 2nd in both the 200m and 400m girls running events. Another ribbon she won was gold in the 3-legged race along with team partner Jesse Wenzel. This event had been dominated by Cire students Jacinta Lammertse and Jess Brown in the heats; however Marie and Jesse took first place in the final.

Other highlights of the day included our girls relay team finishing second, the boys finishing third and the awesome performances by the girls in the jumping and throwing events.

“The students all had a great time competing.Mark Hunt

The biggest highlight of the day by far was that every student put their hand up to participate in multiple events and united to support each other. Not only that, but all of the students made a concerted effort to get along with and encourage the students from the other schools and ensured they shook hands after each event.

In what proved to be an extraordinary day filled with outstanding performances, it was our student’s determination, sportsmanship, respect and camaraderie that stood out most.” Mark Hunt

“It was nice to interact with students from other schools” Zoe M

Overall, Cire Community School finished a close third out of the schools on the day. Our students and teachers look forward to next year and thank all of the students that participated in this event and made it such a great day. Cire Community School would like to thank the Berry Street School for organising this event and the invitation to attend.

“It was an awesome day” Jarryd

For further information regarding regarding Cire youth educational services click here.