It was more than two years ago that discussions were had between Mornington Peninsula Foundation (MPF) and Advance College around better connecting with the students from the College to optimise their learning potential. A few things were tried before Stephanie from MPF was introduced to the Feuerstein method of education by supporter 6A Foundation. Stephanie was encouraged by the Feuerstein Institute’s belief that ‘Everyone has learning potential’. And so the wheels were put in motion. Much negotiation and planning ensued with the result being a three week residency in January by Feuerstein Training expert, Larissa Monastursky. MPF project assistant Nikki Devis chats with Larissa the day before she flies home.

Sunlight poured through the car window as we headed towards Melbourne. Unusually intense midday traffic created a perfect opportunity to interview Israel’s Feuerstein Training Educator, Larissa Monastursky. Larissa has spent the last three weeks instructing Mornington Peninsula’s Advance College VCAL staff, as well as testing their students and overseeing the initial implementation of the Feuerstein method in the VCAL program.

When Stephanie (MPF) first told me about the Feuerstein Project, it took me several attempts to get the pronunciation right (foyer-stine). A Google search had my imagination running wild regarding the ‘instruments’ used to unlock the learning potential of students. For a 50-60 year old methodology, archaic metal contraptions filled my mind, and it was a relief to arrive on Friday to get my hands on one of the actual instruments and learn what had evolved over the past three weeks.

Larissa enlightened me that back in the 1950’s psychologist Professor Reuven Feuerstein developed his theories into an educational method whilst helping to unlock the learning potential of Jewish children that came to Israel after the Holocaust. The ‘Basic’ program works with aged 3-7 and the ‘Standard’ program works with those 8 and up. Each program has a number of ‘instruments’ which could be described most basically as activity books along a common objective.

It always fascinates me what inspires a long-standing passion, and Larissa’s story did not disappoint. Visiting a friend many years ago, she became intrigued by a dotted page sitting on the kitchen table, particularly when the friend found herself unable to explain it. Larissa persisted, seeking clarification on the meaning and goal of the dots, of which her friend could merely say she was trying to form squares. Unsatisfied by that description, Larissa rang the company upon whose letterhead the dots were printed. “Would you like to study it?” they offered, and there began the journey that brought her to us. Having seen the excited VCAL staff with stories of their recent successes, we are lucky it did.

Larissa is an educator and lecturer for the Feuerstein Institute in Israel. She is well-travelled, highly educated and a fantastic knowledge base for assessing, instructing and implementing the Feuerstein method to people around the globe. She has worked with Roma children in Slovakia, Down Syndrome children in America, Arabic children in Israel, among several other countries and peoples. Her passion for Feuerstein is palpable, particularly when asked about an element I discovered online called Tactile Instrumental Enrichment Programs. Larissa’s eyes lit up and to my excitement I learnt that Larissa actually wrote the teachers manual for Tactile IM, having being involved in the developmental process with a Professor Gouzman who began it with Professor Feuerstein himself. This method was developed for people with ADHD, vision impairment and learning difficulties and involves being blindfolded to increase the focus on the tactile senses. It didn’t surprise me Larissa intends to focus a future PHD on this method.

And so what were her thoughts of her VCAL experience? Larissa described working with the staff and students as ‘a beautiful combination’. When asked what she had found unexpected, Larissa described how ‘loved the students were by the teachers’, the attention the teachers bestowed on the students, and the flexibility of the VCAL program. Excited by the potential of the students, Larissa emphasised her hopes that the program could be extended, becoming available for more students in the coming years.

The VCAL staff spoke in a similar vein, excited by the program, wanting regular refreshers to keep up the quality of their new-found language and skills, someone on-the-ground to support them, as well as opportunities to learn more of the instruments to implement into the program. One staff member described how he himself had completed VCAL a few years prior, and the fantastic career opportunity it had provided. He was clearly passionate about his work and the students, and I could not help but think what an inspirational example he was of the benefits of VCAL, not to mention being a relatable figure to the students.

For any teenager feeling the mainstream education system is not for them, I recommend giving Advance College a call to see what education opportunities are available under such amazing guidance, support and respect from his staff, particularly with their new Feuerstein skills and instruments. Their locations are in Hastings (0447 040 999), Rosebud (0439 554 119) and Mornington (0439 014 666) and are well worth a visit.

This project was made possible thanks to the effort and support of many including Advance College, Sentinel Foundation and 6A Foundation. Photo Credit to Tanya at @oceanfrypictures