Attending school & completing school

A whole new spin

Name: Paul Woodhead

Paul Woodhead has been a favourite teacher at Dubbo West Primary School for the past 15 years.

Paul, who got into teaching 25 years ago after winning a scholarship, says he still loves his job after all those years in front of a blackboard.

“I love working with kids,” he says. “But I think another reason why I love my job is that I’m not just stuck in a classroom all day long.”

That’s because when he’s not in the classroom Paul is teaching kids how to be in the circus.

Starting with only the most basic equipment back in 1991, Paul began holding circus workshops with a handful of troubled kids who had little interest in other activities. From there, circus became an alternate school sport option for kids who didn’t like playing other sports.

But before long, the workshops’ popularity grew to such an extent that it became a structured lunchtime and after-school program.

“There are only two rules,” Paul explains. “Share what you have and what you know, and respect the gear.”

Kids who were bullies or loners during class hours started to gain acceptance, working with the other kids and helping each other out.

“It’s a great medium for kids to learn how to accept differences,” Paul says.

In 1994 Paul started Circus West, which kids can audition to join once they have built up their skills and confidence levels. The process involves passing a set of structured levels, giving students something to work towards.

The circus performs at events of all sizes, and has begun winning sponsorship from local businesses.

“In 2001 we were given $50,000 by the local Environment Protection Authority to create a show,” says Paul. “What we came up with won awards at both state and national levels.”

A local radio station has also recently offered sponsorship.

Thanks to such generous donations and a lot of hard work, the circus now boasts 20 unicycles, 24 pairs of stilts, more than $2000 worth of juggling equipment and countless other items.

But the most important difference is the confidence levels of the kids, and throughout the school as a whole.

“Circus West has had two main effects,” says Paul. “The first is that it’s helped to turn around so many individual kids that were at risk.

“The second is that it’s changed the way the community views the school, and the way the school views itself.”

Paul often has parents come up to him to tell him about the notable difference in their kids, and to thank him for the changes he has helped to bring about.

“There are kids who had never persevered at anything, and now they’re working hard, learning new skills, gaining confidence and learning to work as part of a team,” Paul says proudly.

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