30/03/2017 - 11:56

Getting Aboriginal girls back to school

30/03/2017 - 11:56

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A netball-based education and community initiative is helping Aboriginal girls to shoot for the stars.

More than 260 girls across the state are involved in the Shooting Stars program. Photo: Ashton Murphy

A netball-based education and community initiative is helping Aboriginal girls to shoot for the stars.

School attendance rates of Aboriginal girls in remote Western Australian communities are improving with the help of the netball-inspired Shooting Stars program.

Shooting Stars uses netball as its primary tool to bridge the gap between engagement and education.

The program is run by Glass Jar Australia, the charity arm of Netball WA, and seeks to help young indigenous women through skills-based activities.

Cooking and healthy eating classes, trips to the local pool, after-school homework support, camps, dancing and singing are some of the engagement tools, alongside netball games, that underpin Shooting Stars.

Established in 2015, Shooting Stars works with more than 260 students from primary and secondary schools across six sites – Derby, Meekatharra, Wiluna, Carnarvon, Halls Creek and Mullewa.

Funded by the federal government through the indigenous advancement strategy, Glass Jar is pursuing opportunities to build corporate sponsor partnerships, with the aim to expand the program to reach 2,000 Aboriginal girls over the next five years.

Glass Jar executive officer and Netball WA indigenous programs general manager, Fran Haintz, said the inclusive nature of netball had enabled Shooting Stars to connect with and engage young indigenous girls, and worked with the community to develop a tailored approach at each location.

“When we talk about netball we talk about participation, people building their own capacity, life-long friendships and new team skill sets that you take throughout your life,” Ms Haintz told Business News.

“We realised we had a powerful tool that could be used to assist and engage community development and help grow individuals.

“We have a lot of indigenous women playing this sport so we thought let’s have a go to see if we get any traction.”

More than 20 per cent of students involved in the program have increased their attendance by an additional five days per term.

“Schools are good at educating and we’re good at engaging – you put those two together and you’ve got more kids at school learning,” Ms Haintz said.

“More importantly, there’s been a change in attitude.”

Glass Jar chair Colleen Hayward said Aboriginal children faced many challenges when it came to achieving at least equivalent educational outcomes as their non-Aboriginal counterparts.

“The greatest of these is school attendance,” Professor Hayward said.

“It’s simply too hard for Aboriginal children to learn what they need to learn at school if they’re not there.”

In 2016 attendance rates for indigenous students ranged from 86.9 per cent in inner regional areas to 66.4 per cent in remote areas, according to the federal government.

Across the country, the attendance rate for indigenous students in years one to 10 was 10 per cent lower than non-indigenous students.

And less than 30 per cent of young Aboriginal women have completed Year 12, compared with 60 per cent of other non-indigenous women in Australia currently.

“Schools do have some disincentives that negatively impact on Aboriginal children, such as inappropriate or inaccurate pedagogy and curriculum,” Professor Hayward said.

“So it’s important to have programs that incentivise children for their attendance – Shooting Stars does that.”

Shooting Stars community development coordinator for the Kimberley Helen Ockerby said part of her role was acting as an extra support system for the girls.

Ms Ockerby said in addition to running activities in and outside of school hours, she was also focused on eliminating things that might deter the girls from coming to school in the first place.

“Sometimes it’s just little things that are preventing them; some girls might not rock up because they don’t have lunch or recess and we go out into the community to see if any girls need help getting to school,” she said.

“It’s about creating a friendly space so they can come to school and feel comfortable.

“We also sit in classrooms, help develop relationships with teachers, and we’ll even work over the school holidays to keep up our relationship with the girls.”

Ms Ockerby said beyond the classroom, Shooting Stars was also having a positive impact on the broader community.

Before the program came to Halls Creek, it did not have a netball association.

“Shooting Stars involves schools but it has to also involve the community and its stakeholders,” she said.

“It’s a holistic program that brings girls back to the education system or keeps them within it.”

Glass Jar is currently seeking relationships with potential corporate partners to develop a tailored approach to sponsorship opportunities with Shooting Stars to build capacity, support on-the-ground staff and equipment needs and fund organisational development. 

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