Case study - I CAN School Mentoring Program

Learn more about how Seaholme Primary School's partnership with I CAN and Western Autistic School is helping autistic and other neurodivergent students.

Western Autistic School in Laverton has partnered with Seaholme Primary School in Seaholme to take part in the I CAN School Mentoring Program.

The program is run by I CAN mentors, who are themselves autistic, and aims to help autistic and other neurodivergent students build their confidence and self-esteem, make social connections and feel they belong at school. Sixteen students, 8 from each school, attend weekly sessions that alternate between the two schools. Activities are designed to create social connections, and build communication skills, confidence and teamwork.

Adele Field, Principal, Western Autistic School (WAS) said the school community was ‘really excited’ to be part of the I CAN program with their partners at Seaholme Primary School. “For us, as a specialist school, it’s really important our students find a community in the local area, so building that strong sense of belonging and connectedness.”

James Barger, Principal of Seaholme Primary School, said the partnership with I CAN and WAS has been beneficial for students at both schools. “It has created an authentic opportunity for our kids to build social connections and build their confidence.”

Chris Varney, Chief Enabling Officer of I CAN, who is himself autistic, said he started the mentoring program because he wanted autistic students to feel confident at school and have a strong sense of belonging.

“When I started school, I was determined to be invisible. I was really afraid of other kids in my year level and was nervous to ask for help. I just wanted to blend in.”

“I was really lucky that I had a principal and a head of junior school that encouraged me to take risks and by the end of Term 1, Year 7, I had this lovely confidence that just kept growing.”

Chris knows that autistic students often struggle to fit in at school and was determined to change things. “That’s why I was moved to create the I CAN Network. I wanted every single autistic or neurodivergent student to have an adult mentor who could come in and say, ‘school can be great, there’s nothing wrong with you, all your uniqueness is going to make you awesome’, and that’s what I CAN aims to deliver.

I CAN School expansion

All Victorian government schools can now access the I CAN mentoring program, including the I CAN Imagination Club for primary students and I CAN School for secondary students. An independent evaluation of the program has found student participants experience significant improvements in their confidence, self-esteem, social connections, communication, sense of belonging in school and attendance.