Girl Power makes a difference
Indigenous girls and women are taking on some of Australia’s biggest challenges and winning.
“DEVELOP a girl and change the community”.
This is the Girls Academy Program mission that uses community-led solutions to tackle the ‘Big Four’ of increasing school attendance, raising academic achievement, improving graduation rates, and post-school transitioning.
The Girls Academy Program, founded in
2004 by Olympian and champion basketball player Ricky Grace, boasts 16 centres, with
12 more commencing this year at 34 schools in Australia with 2500 girls.
Female students have chalked up impressive records with graduation rates up by 79 per cent from 2010, attendance increasing by 11 per cent in participating schools with 79 percent having post school plans and Year 12 enrolments up by 276 per cent in a five year period.
Indigenous women also act as role models and mentors, totalling 79 per cent of school based program managers and development officers in WA schools, and 40 per cent of regional managers.
The Girls Academy Program body Role Models and Leaders Australia said that in every social measure, Australian Indigenous girls trail their non-indigenous peers in health, education, employment opportunities, earning capacity and life span.
Dr Phil Paioff, regional manager for WA, worked with program managers and development officers to empower and motivate Indigenous girls to break the cycle of poverty, drugs and alcohol.
Empowerment and resilience tools used to achieve change are inspirational Indigenous women, extracurricular activities, career pathways, leadership, teamwork and community advisory committees.
“Senior girls are encouraged to do Certificate II up to IV and the Academies work with Vocational Education Training Coordinators in school to set up structured work placements,” Dr Paioff said.
“Some girls now work as Development Officers in our Academies,”
Leadership opportunities and high expectations were part of Girls Academies through work on student leadership committees, public speaking, International Women’s Day 2017, organising award nights and other programs using universities, banks and corporate bodies.
“There is an expectation that the girls will take on responsibilities and mentoring so that young Aboriginal women will be the future leaders of their communities,” Dr Paioff said.
Community advisory panels formed an important part of all Girls Academies, monitoring attendance rates, quality of service, success stories, and key initiatives with a focus on continuous improvement.
Mt Magnet District High School Badimaya Jurdu Dance Group worked with multi-talented Indigenous trainer Karla Hart, who is 2015 winner Best Supporting Actress WA Performing Arts, a documentary writer for NITV and Screenwest, and manager and performer with the women’s Noongar dance group Kwarbah Djookian.
Principal Liz Tuckey and artist-in-residence Karla Hart worked on building self-esteem for a performance at the Mt Magnet Recreation Centre, where students refined a performance underpinned by the theme of Stolen Generations showing skills in choreography, costume design and originality by performing at the Awesome Arts Festival in town.
Ms Hart and Dr Paioff, supported by corporate sponsor IGO, toured Perth to give performances for local schools that Dr Paioff described as “quite phenomenal”.
Information provided by Mt Magnet District High School showed how students went on to win a regional final of the YOH-FEST Performing Arts Festival, competed in the Perth final, and won three certificates of excellence.
Challis Primary School principal Lee Musumeci was recognised as being among
100 Most Influential West Australians in
2015 for her contributions in education. She was credited with inspiring 21 Coalition Government Early Childhood Centres in WA, providing Parenting Programs modelled on her school, which catered for children from eight weeks to three years old.
As part of the program, parents were paid a visit by the school after a few weeks post birth for advice and a range of services that included speech therapy, physiotherapy, counselling, and early year programs.
Vital health services were provided immediately as the school had a partnership with final year health science students at Curtin University.
“It has had a profound effect on children’s achievement levels and parents in our groups bond together,” Ms Musumeci said.
According to a 2014 news report, the parenting program at Challis Early Childhood Education Centre was recognised as a factor in a massive turnaround; up to 95 per cent of children that had early intervention out-performed those that had no exposure to the program.
Mr Paioff said that Indigenous and non-indigenous parents developed parenting skills working with experts and connected closely to their schools.
The success of other centres in WA’S north-west shows how girl and parent power are two faces of the same coin.
Dr Phil Paioff.