Ricky Grace and STUDENT Role Models and Leaders Australia Interview
Over 1,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander high school girls from 16 areas across the country will #WalkTogether to raise awareness of Girls Academy, a program aimed at helping young Indigenous girls reach their full potential.
Girls Academy, an initiative of Role Models and Leaders Australia, works within the education system to reduce the barriers faced by Indigenous girls while completing their education. Over the past four years, 2,280 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander high school girls have participated in the program.
#WalkTogether will start in Sydney on 29 September where 30 Indigenous high school girls from across the country, will walk from Anzac Bridge to Sydney Opera House. Australians will be asked to take to the streets in support of the program throughout the month of October.
'In October, we are asking the community to help us raise awareness by simply going for a walk with their family and friends and share their support on their social networks with #WalkTogether," says Ricky Grace, Chief Executive Officer Role Models and Leaders Australia.
Mr Grace says Girls Academy has supported thousands of Australian Indigenous girls.
'Since 2010 there has been a 70 per cent increase in the number of Year 12 Indigenous girls graduating the Girls Academy across Australia. We've also seen a 156 per cent increase in year 12 retention rates over the same period," he says.
In 2013, the Girls Academy program in Gunbalanya (Arnhem Land) Northern Territory, celebrated a first, with two girls graduating from high school for the first time ever. This year, nine girls will graduate.
However according to Mr Grace funding remains an issue.
'We have been able to make a huge difference thanks to corporate funding largely from Nestlé, however funding shortfalls from both the public and private sectors mean we can't grow the program and service the waitlist of communities asking for the Girls Academy to be set up in their local schools," he said.
'We're also struggling with an uneven distribution of federal funding between Indigenous boys and girls educational programs."
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Mick Gooda agrees.
'There needs to be a more even distribution of funding between Indigenous boys and girls educational programs. Improved health and wellbeing initiatives for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, particularly girls, is a key driver in improving conditions for Indigenous Australians.
'Programs like the Girls Academy program help girls overcome some of the common barriers which keep Indigenous girls from school - poverty, drugs, alcoholism, violence, abuse, disconnectedness with community and culture," he says.
Commissioner Gooda, who will join the walk in October, and encourages all Australians to show support for young Indigenous women and #WalkTogether
'The #WalkTogether movement will help raise awareness of the importance of investing in education for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. I commend these young girls and women for their leadership and commitment to improving the educational outcomes of their communities," he said.
#WalkTogether in October with a friend, a colleague, a mentor, sister, or brother to show your support for Indigenous Girls in Australia.
Share your walk (and support) on www.facebook.com/girlsacademyaustralia or your social networks a photo or video with #WalkTogether #GirlsAcademy #Girls4Change
Interview with Chelsea Whitehurst, 17 years old, student at Girls Academy Clontarf, Perth
Question: How did you become involved in the Girls Academy?
Chelsea Whitehurst: When I was in year 8 and living in my hometown Kalgoorlie, WA, my older sisters were involved in Girls Academy, which made me curious about the program as I was hearing good things. So in year 8 I decided to try out.
Question: Can you describe a typical day at the Girls Academy?
Chelsea Whitehurst: The difference between a normal school day and a day at the Girls Academy is the role models. They are always there to support us through our school day, whether it's making sure we are warm, fed, learning or entertained. They provide a safe environment for us all, and make school a great place to be.
Question: What have you learnt from the program, so far?
Chelsea Whitehurst: I've learnt so much from being involved in Girls Academy. On top of educational support, Girls Academy teaches us how to be great leaders, how to properly nourish ourselves, and what to expect throughout the different stages of womanhood.
Question: How has being involved in the Girls Academy program changed your education?
Chelsea Whitehurst: Being involved in the Girls Academy has made me realise how important education really is.
When I was living in Kalgoorlie, I had no interest in attending, let alone graduating from high school. Girls Academy really encouraged me to go to school. If they didn't push me I would be at home right now.
Question: What goals have you set for yourself whilst involved in the Girls Academy program?
Chelsea Whitehurst: My main goals I set were to be healthier and develop my leadership skills. I'm pretty proud at how far I'm come with those two things already, and am continuing to develop them further.
Another goal of mine is to one day work as a leader for Role Model and Leaders Australia.
Being involved in the program has made me see the great things they do for young girls, and has really made me want to be a part of that.
Question: What do you hope to achieve from #WalkTogether?
Chelsea Whitehurst: Through the #WalkTogether initiative, our goal is to come together and raise awareness. We want people to know about the great opportunities Girls Academy is giving young girls.
Interview with Role Models & Leaders Australia Founder & CEO, Ricky Grace
Question: What inspired the creation of the Girls Academy?
Ricky Grace: We recognised a gap; there were many programs available for boys and repeated requests for programs for girls. There was a clear lack of suitable programs that addressed the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander girls.
Question: What's involved in the Girls Academy program?
Ricky Grace: The program is founded on providing role models and mentors to nurture and guide the students. There is a focus on wellbeing and personal development. The program has a focus on the big four:
3. Academic achievement
4. Post-school opportunities
Question: Can you describe a typical day with the Girls Academy?
Ricky Grace: A typical day starts with breakfast; possible student pickups; recording of attendance; follow up of non-attenders with parents and caregivers; relationship building; throughout the day the delivery of a range of programs in areas such as wellbeing, health and sport; lunch; classroom visits; after school activities and sports; possible student drop offs. Throughout the day staff are available to assist, mentor and support students.
Question: Where does Role Models and Leaders Australia receive their funding?
Ricky Grace: Girls Academy currently receives funding from a combination of sources, including the Australian government, state governments, schools, and corporate or local organisations.
Question: Why is there an uneven distribution of funding between Indigenous boys and girls education programs?
Ricky Grace: We're struggling with an uneven distribution of federal funding between Indigenous boys and girls educational programs, as there are a lot more boys programs throughout Australia.
Question: How can Australians support Role Models and Leaders Australia/Girls Academy?
Ricky Grace: Throughout the month of October, Australians can participate in the Girls Academy initiative, #WalkTogether, by walking with friends/families/colleagues, documenting the walk on social media with the hashtag #WalkTogether.
Our aim is to highlight the need for increased funding of The Girls Academy program, at a federal and state government level, as well as corporate and personal levels.
We are urging Australians to support a high needs group of Australians, where there is currently great imbalances in support.
Question: Can you talk us through some of the barriers faced by Indigenous girls while completing their education?
Ricky Grace: Indigenous girls face a range of barriers including poor attendance, low levels of retention, limited post-school options; poor health and wellbeing outcomes; poor family pressure; and community dysfunction.
Question: How does the program overcome these barriers?
Ricky Grace: The structure of the program supports an increase in student attendance through daily and on-going tracking and monitoring which is achieved by working closely with parents and caregivers. Retention and year 12 graduations are improved through a dedicated focus on the provision of support for students in their senior years through homework and class support and assistance.
Post-school options are improved through the facilitation of work experience and participation in training programs. Health and wellbeing outcomes are improved through the provision of programs that build knowledge and understanding. Girls Academy works to establish and strengthen positive relationships with families and communities.
Question: What success has the Girls Academy had, so far?
Ricky Grace: In 2013, the Girls Academy program in Gunbalanya (Arnhem Land) Northern Territory, celebrated a first, with two girls graduating from high school for the first time ever. This year, nine girls will graduate.
The Girls Academy has achieved success in areas of increased attendance, increased graduation rates; higher levels of achievement and promotion of post-school options. Girls Academy has shifted attitudes and understanding around good health and nutrition and respectful relationships.
Question: What's next for Girls Academy?
Ricky Grace: Girls Academy constantly receives requests from communities to provide a program in their local area. We hope to raise awareness so we can fund the initiative in areas that are in need of the Girls Academy program .
Interview by Brooke Hunter