Today we are celebrating Janelle Wheatley, a true community hero and champion of the most vulnerable in our society.

Janelle is a Specialist Educator, Accredited Early Childhood Teacher and DRUMBEAT Team Leader for The Samaritan’s in Newcastle, New South Wales Australia. Over the last five years Janelle has been working in local government primary schools delivering DRUMBEAT and for the first time this year, a Catholic Primary School. This has been a free service to schools under the NSW Community for Children Program.

Janelle has a passion for building relationships with her students and has many beautiful stories, data, and evidence on the positive social, health and wellbeing outcomes for individual students, schools, and the broader community.

Samaritans DRUMBEAT program has been able to promote schools to use the State Funded Creative Kids Vouchers to incorporate DRUMBEAT as Well-Being Program. This helps schools to fund the program. You can find more information on the State Funded Creative Kids Vouchers here

Janelle believes that building trust takes time, especially when children come from challenge or complex backgrounds or have experienced trauma. Janelle has customized her DRUMBEAT delivery to run over 2 terms, to dedicate time to ensuring that trusting relationships can be established. The methodology of extending DRUMBEAT from the traditional 10 sessions to 12 – 14 sessions also allow for regular school activities such a school camps, swimming lessons and athletics carnivals. This has also helped to foster the relationship with the school. One school has continued to run the program every term since 2016.

When COVID shutdown schools in her area and stopped many group support programs for young people, Janelle was asked if she could somehow adapt DRUMBEAT to provide crucial individual support, in a COVID safe, social distanced way. Janelle relished this opportunity and worked one on one with young people in the Samaritans Permanent Support Program. This program pairs children who are in foster care with a mentor who takes the children on outings. As opportunities for outings were limited, Janelle customized one-on-one drumming sessions. Janelle had an 11-year girl in care come with her Support Doll which she clung to during the first session couple of sessions. As the drumming progressed, the girl felt safe without her Support Doll and could enjoy drumming. Her confidence grew to the extent that for the final session she invited her Foster Parents, performed for them and taught them some rhythms!

Janelle and fellow trained Facilitator also ran holiday sessions for students with disabilities, and was inspired by their determination and enjoyment of the DRUMBEAT games. The DRUMBEAT lessons presented in a condensed form over two four hour sessions, provided participants with a fun and valuable holiday experience where new friendships were formed.

Once schools reopened from COVID shutdowns, DRUMBEAT was classified as an essential service (in the schools where relationships had been established) for the wellbeing of the students. Janelle and her facilitators were the only external visitors permitted in the schools at the time of reopening As we all adopt the ‘new normal’ Janelle encourages all schools to use DRUMBEAT to rebuild relationships, reduced student anxiety and create more opportunities for growth, creativity and fun.