The Hands On Learning (HOL) program was developed by Russell Kerr in 1999 as a response to many years witnessing struggling students, or those with different learning styles, written off prematurely and not given the opportunity to realize their potential. Armed with the philosophy that a school has a responsibility to provide a stimulating environment that encourages all students to grow, Russell started thinking about how this could be made a reality.
The seed was planted when he took a group of students from Frankston High School into the Warburton forest with a friend, skilled artisan Frank Wimmer. The students were taught how to find the right sticks, and how to build a chair from their sticks. Watching young people who had been angry, adversarial and frustrated become naturally engaged with these real tasks was amazing. And a valuable lesson was learnt: kids engage with tasks that are authentic and readily achievable – tasks that build self-confidence and self-esteem. Hands On Learning grew from this simple principle.
Support from the then principal of Frankston High School, Ken Rowe, saw the introduction of Hands On Learning which started with the building of a strawbale hut. John Eldridge a multi-skilled artisan was engaged two days per week and remained working with Russell for the next five years.
Following the success of HOL at Frankston High School, the program was extended to a cluster of schools in the Frankston area with the support of Social Ventures Australia and an AMP Youth Boost Fund grant.
In 2008 Russell and Richard O’Donovan co-founded Hands On Learning Australia (HOLA) as a not-for-profit Harm Prevention Charity whose mission is to help as many vulnerable young people as possible benefit from staying at school by expanding and sustaining the network of HOL schools. In 2015 HOLA was granted PBI Charity status by the ACNC and ATO to continue pursuing its social change agenda.
New clusters of schools have since been established in Gippsland, North-East Victoria, Geelong, the Wimmera and throughout metropolitan Melbourne. Today HOLA provides the quality assurance for schools right across Victoria, and schools in New South Wales, Western Australia and the United Arab Emirates to run the HOL program.