Griffith University’s Logan campus has just become the new home of pioneering special assistance school, Ohana College.

Ohana College is an independent secondary school for young people who have disengaged from mainstream schooling, tailoring educational programs to promote continuous engagement, meet individual student learning needs and interests and focus heavily on student well-being, all while exposing them to essential literacy, numeracy and life skills.

The school caters for students in years 7 to 12 and is specifically designed to support those who have experienced family and social challenges, mental health and approximately two thirds of the students experiencing autism, ADHD or ODD.

Principal Tenneille Lynham said Ohana has created an environment that fosters learning and supports individual needs.

Principal Tenneille Lynham with two students at Ohana College

Principal Tenneille Lynham with two students at Ohana College

“Many students arrive with significant gaps in their learning due to extended periods without formal schooling, so the school offers individualised curriculum plans catering to each student’s specific needs to bridge the learning gaps,” she said.

“We’ve got some students who haven’t got the capacity to read or write and have been put in the ‘too hard basket’ from other education facilities, so by the time they get to high school they’re incredibly disengaged because they’re now teenagers who don’t want to show other people they can’t read and write, which leads to behavioural problems.

“Our approach includes daily check-ins with students, offering meals and a quiet space for power naps if needed, plus a dedicated team of psychologists and welfare staff available to address social and emotional challenges.”

The relocation to a new purpose-built facility was driven by the school’s rapid growth, with a maximum capacity of 94 students at the previous location seeing a growing waitlist for enrolment.

With a current enrolment of 135 students, Ohana plans to expand to around 180 students this year and ultimately reach a cap of 200 to 300 students.

Designed to meet the specific needs of its students, the campus features spacious classrooms connected to outdoor or ‘reset’ spaces where students can regulate their emotions, soundproofed rooms within classrooms to help mitigate sensory overload without removing the student from the learning environment, and individual gender-neutral toilets to accommodate trans or non-binary students.

Griffith education and health researchers and students undertaking professional experience and work integrated learning will also be embedded within the campus, hosting an onsite research centre with a focus on health, social welfare, learning and teaching, and teacher education.

Director of Engagement in the Arts, Education and Law Group at Griffith, Professor Donna Pendergast said the aim was for the school and university to work collaboratively.

Director of Engagement in Arts, Education and Law Group, Professor Donna Pendergast

Director of Engagement in Arts, Education and Law Group, Professor Donna Pendergast

“We’ve established a research advisory group comprised of Griffith University and Ohana College representatives alongside key experts from the field, and together we’ll decide on priorities and research directions,” Professor Pendergast said.

“There’s a very strong focus on well-being but also on student engagement and providing the right kind of support and opportunities to develop health-enabling behaviours.

“We have a series of suites within the Ohana campus for our health and education researchers and students where members of the school community will engage directly and authentically.

“It’s a very unique and impressive collaboration.”

The partnership will also look to develop alternative pathways for students who may wish to continue onto university, as the college does not participate in the ATAR system but is committed to student success beyond the school gates.

“The institution actively supports students in their transition to further education, employment, or vocational training, ensuring they are well-prepared for their future endeavours,” Ms Lynham said.

“We believe in providing equal opportunities for all students in an inclusive community where they can thrive academically and personally regardless of their socio-economic background or circumstances.”

10: Reduced Inequalities
UN Sustainable Development Goals 10: Reduced Inequalities