Indigenous female students are the focus of a new initiative launched at Gunnedah High School on Monday night.
Girls Academy is a program that aims to drive community-led solutions to reduce barriers that may prevent Indigenous girls from completing their education and reaching their full potential. It will work within the school system to “Develop a Girl - Change a Community”.
The launch was well-attended, with special guests including representatives from sponsors Whitehaven, Nestle and Idemitsu, Minister for Early Childhood Education and Aboriginal Affairs Sarah Mitchell, Girls Academy founder Ricky Grace, NSW Public Schools director Mark Young, and Aboriginal education and community engagement director Mary Senj.
Ms Mitchell addressed the crowd as both a minister and former student.
“It doesn't seem that long ago that I was a student here too, thinking about my future and wondering what it would hold… Tonight, I want you to know that all of us here are investing in you because we believe in you, in your future, and what you can achieve,” she said.
“We know you can do anything, but we also know you're going to need help to reach your potential because sadly in Australia, Aboriginal girls face some of the greatest social disadvantage of our nation’s population.
“In every social measure, Australian Indigenous Girls trail their non-Indigenous peers in health, education, employment opportunities, earning capacity and life span.
“As the future mothers and leaders of the Indigenous community, making sure you are strong and educated young women is critical to closing the gap that exists between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians.”
Head teacher of well-being and team leader for Aboriginal education, Bianca Small said it was a fantastic evening and was well-supported.
“As a proud local Aboriginal woman of Gunnedah and former student of Gunnedah High, it was with great pleasure that I was able to be a part of the Girls Academy launch, and I look forward to the journey and supporting the academy as it provides exciting opportunities for Aboriginal students and the Gunnedah community,” she said.
“The kids really enjoyed the opportunity to showcase their dancing in front of their families and friends. They showcase they are able to be good role models and inspire not only their peers but also adults and Kevin Anderson and the minister.”
School principal Shane Kelly said the initiative was aimed at being a “school-wide initiative” and would create networking opportunities with schools in Tamworth, Muswellbrook and Dubbo.
“I think this is a very positive, proactive program that will have girls engaged in education and performing well and gaining opportunities,” he said.
“It is an exciting time for Gunnedah high and I look forward to what can be achieved from the girls in the program and the flow-on effects from Gunnedah high into the Gunnedah community.”
Whitehaven managing director and chief executive officer, Paul Flynn said the company strove to create “economic opportunities for Aboriginal people through training, employment and business development”.
“Eleven per cent of our workforce identify as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander and approximately $10 million in wages and benefits flow through indigenous families back into the local community annually,” he said.
Fellow sponsor Idemitsu was represented by chief executive officer Yoshihiro Yamamoto who travelled from Japan to attend the launch. He was gifted with an Indigenous painting from Girls Academy, along with Whitehaven.
The NSW Government will provide up to $6 million between 2017 and 2019 to establish up to 800 places in the Girls Academy Program for Year 7 to Year 12 Aboriginal female students enrolled at NSW public schools.
The Girls Academy Program is the flagship program of Role Models and Leaders Australia Ltd, a charitable organisation which was founded in 2004 by Ricky Grace.
Related story:Gunnedah High School to launch Girls Academy