By Gai Brown
Parent and educator at Vincentia High School, NSW
Aboriginal students can succeed and close the gap in education, if they get support at school and learn in a place that respects their culture and identity.
My school, Vincentia High School is using its Gonski funding to turn around poor attendance rates and ensure a majority of its students complete Year 12.
My name is Gai Brown, I’m a Kamillaroi woman but grew up on the South Coast of NSW. I have been a resident of Wreck Bay Aboriginal Community for the past 20 years.
I recently had the chance to travel to Canberra and share my story with Federal MPs, and tell them about the difference Gonski funding for Aboriginal programs and initiatives is making for our children at Vincentia High School and why it is crucial to our future that we get Gonski funding in full.
I am a parent, community member and an educator at Vincentia. I have 5 children and also raised my two young nieces through kinship care. All of these children attended Vincentia High over various years.
Aboriginal students need support
During this time I’ve seen the change in the school and how it has worked to provide culturally appropriate education and support for Aboriginal students.
These programs are now being supported with Gonski resources which are allowing us to give more concrete support to students who need it, which has seen them start to achieve great things.
My eldest daughter graduated in 2000. While she did complete her schooling it was a struggle for her as there was limited support both academically and culturally for her. Three of my sons attended Vincentia HS after that and it was a completely different story. Two of them were constantly suspended, there was no support for them or programs to address and manage their obvious behaviour problems.
Both of them were expelled from school at age 15 with little choice for their future. They both found themselves in the drug and criminal activity scenes. One of them spent 9 months in jail following an addiction to ice and sadly has since passed away at age 23.
But my youngest son completed his senior schooling after the implementation of closing the gap initiatives which saw Vincentia HS gain funding for Aboriginal programs.
This made a huge difference and saw him leave with a world of options and the confidence to set goals and achieve them.
He is now a training officer in the Royal Australian Navy.
Gonski resources lifting results
Increased Gonski funding has built on these programs and let us deliver even more support for Aboriginal students. My youngest daughter and two nieces all recently graduated from Year 12. They had a positive and enjoyable education and benefited from the resources Gonski delivered to our school. They have all gone on to achieve the goals they had set for themselves, one is a Childcare worker and the other two are at University one studying Law and the other Nursing.
- Gonski has been crucial for establishing an Indigenous learning space which allows students to access resources and support including tutors and mentors offering one-to-one support.
- Attendance has improved from 42% to 93% which is largely due to this increased support
- As a result of the funding for programs, 85% of Year 12 graduating students gain entry into tertiary education.
- Funding for cultural programs helps the students develop a sense of identity and pride in their community.
Cutting Gonski funding, or not delivering the full six years, will hurt students and our community.
With so much success and the growing confidence amongst Aboriginal students and the belief that they can achieve anything, it would be a tragedy to revert to the cycle of unemployment and the resulting socio-economic issues which is inevitable without adequate funding and recognition of student needs.
If the gap in educational outcomes for Aboriginal students is to be closed, we need secure ongoing funding, and that means Gonski.
Politicians need to understand Gonski is changing lives
It is well known that past injustices towards Aboriginal people have seen many of the older generation mistrust the education system and not believe its effect and importance for their child’s future.
For a generation in Wreck Bay community we saw our young ones being expelled from school at the age of 15. The education system was not culturally appropriate for them and so they were dis-engaged and often acting out through bad behaviours or truancy. These kids had no educational outcomes, no confidence, no support and no choices for the future.
Sadly as a community we lost many of our young males to the correctional system and many passed away at young ages as a consequence of their lifestyles.
We have shown that this is not inevitable, and that Aboriginal students can succeed if they are given support and their identity and culture are respected.
Education is vital for Aboriginal people and giving our schools and communities the resources they need must be the first step in closing the gap.
I hope the politicians we speak to in Canberra listen to our message and fund the full six years of Gonski reforms to secure the future of Aboriginal students.