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HOPEFUL: Executive principal of Gems Christian Education Graeme Johnston and Ontrack College Emerald principal Ulla Hansson at the proposed land for the college.
HOPEFUL: Executive principal of Gems Christian Education Graeme Johnston and Ontrack College Emerald principal Ulla Hansson at the proposed land for the college.

Special school searches for new home amid ag college closure

STUDENTS with unsolved mental health matters and social issues, who find a reason to be suspended from school, are being forced out of the one place they’ve found refuge.

Ontrack College Emerald is a special assistance school that has been based out of the Emerald Agricultural College since 2018.

Graeme Johnston, the executive principal of Gems Christian Education (not for profit parent company of Ontrack College), says the school has helped the students turn their lives around and move into the workforce.

Although with the closure of the ag college, the school has been forced to find a new base.

Mr Johnston and principal Ulla Hansson have found a 2ha block on the outskirts of Emerald, but they need about $750,000 to secure the land and turn it into a suitable learning facility.

NEW HOME: Ontrack College Emerald will move to a 2ha block on the outskirts of Emerald.
NEW HOME: Ontrack College Emerald will move to a 2ha block on the outskirts of Emerald.

“At the moment we have one teacher and one aid for every 10 kids, councillors and nurses,” Mr Johnston said.

“We can borrow money, but the repayment costs mean we will need to reduce the staff.

“This is a people intense industry, so the more adults we have on site, the better.”

If all goes to plan they will build a campus to suit 50-70 students, with the already built shed housing indoor sports, a commercial kitchen and manual arts facilities, and an administration block and classroom built into the current standing house.

The costs also include carparks, council approvals and the land change of use.

Mr Johnston was one of many who helped bring the school to life to help students who have “been having a hard life”.

“Many of them had been disengaged for years,” he said.

“Some of them were on rolling suspension. They would return to school and then find a reason to get suspended.

“Some have social issues because they’re angry and others come from low socio-economic families or have unsolved mental health matters.”

The proposed space for a commercial kitchen.
The proposed space for a commercial kitchen.

Twenty-six students, from Years 7 to 10, attend from towns across the Central Highlands.

Ms Hansson said without the college, many of the students would be on the streets, homeless, in juvenile justice or even dead.

“The reputation of Ontrack is an education facility, it’s not for bad kids, it’s a place for people who learn differently, and they also want to be successful in life,” she said.

“We create pathways for our students to either go back into mainstream schooling to do QCE, if that’s what they want to do, or we set them up with traineeships.”

The team is calling on assistance from community businesses and groups to raise the funds to continue supporting students who need it across the region, with plans to eventually expand the college to cater for Years 7-12.

Contact Ontrack College Emerald for more information.



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