In the midst of the National Youth Week this week, and the recent National Close the Gap Day and the National Day of Action Against Bullying and Violence last month, we reached out to one of our Alumni to share their experiences of witnessing up close the serious social and educational issues that youth face in Australia today. Stephanie is a Teach For Australia (TFA) associate, currently teaching in her first year of the program at Katherine High School in the Northern Territory.
By Stephanie Gill
On the 17th and 18th of March the National Close the Gap Day and the National Day of Action against Bullying and Violence were held. People came together from all over Australia to deliver messages about bullying, violence, disadvantage, poverty and equality. Many of us hear about people taking action, creating change, making impact, but how do they really do it?
On average, students from remote locations are performing 2 years behind metropolitan students.
For me it was this statistic that impelled me to take action towards educational equity.
Courage and Change
I see courage as the ability to take a leap into the unknown, to go out of your comfort zone and do something previously seen as daunting or challenging. If there is one word I would use to describe my choices over the past three years it would be courage.
I joined TLG in November 2013 and attended my first Rural Program at Morawa DHS. Having grown up in a privileged background myself I was shocked to see the reality of these statistics in our country and so close to Perth. I learnt the harsh reality of a postcode defining someone's opportunities and was able to see first-hand how it affected students across WA. From here I continued my journey with TLG, completing 4 Rural Programs as both a tutor and coordinator, as well as being a part of TLG's first eMentor pilot program. These sessions allowed me to mentor one student in a rural or remote school via an online platform, once a week for seven weeks. The topics specifically focused on mentoring including discussing goal setting, role models, bullying and peer pressure - with the aim of increasing students’ resilience, self esteem and self confidence in order to achieve their true potential and manage the difficult transition to high school that lay ahead. It also involved tailored one-on-one mathematics coaching to help develop the educational outcomes of these students.
The experience as a mentor made me realise the potential of a program that targets disadvantaged youth and how important it is for all students to have a positive role model and someone to talk to. The online nature meant it was accessible to ALL students across the state and the one-on-one environment allowed you to focus on the specific needs of that student to give them the time and support they need.
The experience that I gained through the Rural Programs and eMentor lead me to apply for TLG's executive team. In the year that I volunteered with TLG's executive I worked to grow and develop the eMentor program, which now reaches at-risk students in five schools in WA and is constantly growing. I developed skills that are invaluable to me now as a high school teacher and this in turn increased my commitment to addressing educational disadvantage in Australia.
TLG has taught me so much and has truly changed the trajectory of my life. From completing my Science degree in 2015 I have become a Teach For Australia associate. This means I am completing a Masters of Teaching alongside teaching full time in a disadvantaged school. I currently teach Mathematics and Science to high school students in the Northern Territory. Everyday I see the challenges Australia faces to tackle educational disadvantage and closing the gap.
The courage to reach their potential
Most of the students I teach have been dealt an unlucky hand in life – compared with metropolitan students they are statistically less likely to finish high school, they have access to less opportunities, and some may never get a job. Working with these students everyday I see their potential, what they are capable of, but the problem is that they don’t. They give up before they even try, and so they are so far behind in school that they don’t see the point in trying and see no value in their learning. Often my students don’t have positive role models to lead them in the right direction and therefore they give into peer pressure. One of my Year 10 students is incredibly intelligent but she would wag class and not study for tests in order to avoid getting teased by her peers and to fit in at school. This is where TLG comes in – eMentor equips students with the skills to deal with bullying and peer pressure and builds their resilience. It also allows students to have someone to talk to, who cares about them and listens. This one-on-one attention is so valuable to these students who don’t have a positive role model in their life.
From my experiences in both TLG and Teach For Australia, nothing has inspired me more than students showing courage. Whether it is to stand up to a bully, help out a friend, try a new maths problem, or even dream for a life or a future that is beyond the limitations of their disadvantaged background, it is this courage that distinguishes them from the struggles that define who they are. I truly believe that fostering courage in students is the spark that leads to real change in their lives and breaks them out of the cycle of disadvantage. I used my courage to create change and found something I was passionate about along the way. So can you.