On the prowl for kids to help

PROWLING Panthers are seen most weeks in Penrith, helping school pupils with their education, through Panthers on the Prowl, a special-education program started 10 years ago.

Pupils needing extra help with school work can attend classes for part of the school day at Panthers Stadium — and sometimes they meet the Panthers.

Teacher's aid Venetia Lovett has been with the program from the start.

"Because it's a small group we can work with the kids almost one on one," she said.

She said the idea was based on a similar program in Britain, where footballers acted as mentors to schoolchildren.

"We have players talking to the kids about self-esteem and how it has affected their lives," she said.

Panthers chief executive Brad Waugh said these encounters can have amazing results.

"We had David Simmons talking about his diet — how he eats lots of fruit and vegetables for optimum health," Mr Waugh said.

"Within days we noticed a number of the kids bringing fruit and vegetables, instead of chocolate bars to class."

Lawrence McDonell has been teaching at Panthers on the Prowl since last year.

"Our main focus is on social skills and building self-esteem," he said.

He said they combined ordinary lessons with some recreational activities and promoted the values of respect, co-operation, resilience, excellence and responsibility.

"A lot of kids might have issues at home or elsewhere in their lives which affect their concentration at school," he said. "They say they hate school or aren't smart. We try to turn around such views."

Panthers players Nigel Plumb and Lachlan Coote are proud of their team's contribution. "We're happy to come here and brighten the kids' day a bit," Mr Plumb said.

"We tell them what we went through growing up and how you have to work hard if you want to get ahead."

Mr Coote said the approach was similar to the Panthers' team work on the field.

"The kids sometimes ask me how old I was when I started playing — that makes them think about what they want," he said. "It's a great program."

Mr McDonell said parents saw a big change in their children.

Mrs Lovett said: "Kids who once had low self-esteem aren't afraid to put their hands up in class here."

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