A cause for celebration

Sep 3, 2019 | Features, School

The Maleny Youth Festival is coming and, after meeting the team behind it, HT’s Victoria McGuin is hoping it’s the best year ever for them all. 

By Victoria McGuin

Do you ever have a day where you meet a group of people who fill you will hope and joy? I had one recently when I visited the Maleny Flexi School, based at the Maleny Neighbourhood Centre.

The school is currently working on their annual Youth Festival, which will mark the 20th Anniversary of the Maleny Flexi School on Friday September 13, 2019, 3-9pm. The theme is ‘Day of the Dead’, which gives them the opportunity to come together and celebrate ‘all that has gone before, all that is and all that will be’. 


“This theme has divided opinion, and we’ve learned from that,” said Jo Rickards, The Maleny Flexi School Coordinator, who has a background as a youth worker, social worker and teacher.

“But we are using the idea as a celebration, and hope others see this when they come and experience the day for themselves.

“We will be recognising students, staff and volunteers who have contributed to our learning community over the last 20 years.”


With stalls, live music, workshops, fortune telling and food stands – the Maleny Youth Festival is a testament to the school’s teamwork and creative ideas.


I was invited to meet the students recently and happened to arrive at the same time as a Student Development Officer, a Youth Worker/Project Coordinator, Lead Case Worker for COSY (Community Nambour Solutions) and a Youth Support Coordinator. 

All were present to listen to the students’ ideas on how to improve the school and offer programs and solutions to help and guide them. It was an example of active listening, humour, openness and kindness, with some exciting initiatives potentially on the horizon.

But what impressed me most of all was the students. Sat around a large room, some writing, some drawing, others using laptops and mobiles to work, I was given the opportunity to find out why they chose this school and how they felt – the answers were resoundingly positive.

One student, Nick, showed me a jar full of colour-coded slips of paper. Each day someone would pull out a piece of paper and ask the question inside, to which the group would respond. I was invited to pull a paper from the jar…

Favourite memory at the Flexi School? came out, and immediately a male voice piped up.

“The day I joined.” To which many voices murmured agreement, with nods and smiles.

“Most days are good,” said Javen. “I wake up and actually look forward to going to school.”

Felix added, “Discovering my potential, that’s what I’ve been doing here.”

“It’s a great working environment,” said Marli. “Kids can fall through the cracks in some schools and feel the pressure, but here it’s a better working environment.”

Nick agreed, “It’s home. My first day here, because I’m really shy, everyone was calm, welcoming, awesome. People here care about me. It’s a perfect mindset.”

Hearing such encouraging responses is testament to the wisdom and warmth of the team involved, headed up by Jo Rickards.

“They tell me this is a space where they can accept each other’s differences but still work together. We have created a therapeutic learning environment,” Jo said. 

“These young people are not ‘drop-outs’, they needed a different educational program to work to, or find their strengths. Sometimes they have had so much else going on in their lives that their amazing talents are not given the green light.”

The Flexi School began in 1999, with David Nancaro the teacher who started the school along with Paul Tarbuck the first principal. The school works closely with Maleny State High School, who are very supportive and collaborative when possible.

“There was very little for young people in the area, and little support, so David and Paul responded to an obvious need within the community,” shared Jo.

“We are still following that course of action, and also trying to get a youth space, which is so badly needed.”

VET (Vocational Education and Training) based, the Maleny Flexi School teaches Cert 1, Cert 2 and Visual Arts, encouraging students to learn foundation skills for life, such as how to write a compelling CV, banking, how to approach interviews, and learning about IDMT (Information, Digital Media, Technology). 

The students are currently training in tourism, hospitality, make-up, carpentry and much more. “Every person has a paid traineeship in Year 11 or 12,” explained Jo. 

Student Lani added, “I feel very accomplished being here. When I first arrived, I never thought I would get to this point. We put together our creative ideas, everyone has their own pace, and I’ve personally done more here than in the rest of my life.

“It’s like a home – if I was ever in trouble, they would help. Everyone is welcoming and includes each other.”

The feeling of connection in the room was palpable. Jo finished with a hint of pride, “We had 100% of QCE (Queensland Certificate of Education) outcomes last year – these guys are incredible.”

If you would like to experience the positivity of the Maleny Flexi School, come along and support them at the Maleny Youth Festival!


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