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From boys to men

Michael McVeigh  |  18 December 2012

From boys to men

A successful scholarship program for Indigenous students is about providing more than just a quality education. At St Ignatius' College, Riverview in Sydney, the boys are given an insight into what it means to be Indigenous men, so they can be the next generation of leaders and role models in their communities.

Year 12 student Lincoln Whitely has a simple but important answer for why he first came to be a scholarship student at St Igntius' College, Riverview, in Sydney. 'Mum wanted me to get a good education', says the young man from the country town of Geurie in New South Wales.

Around ten per cent of boarders at St Ignatius' College are Indigenous students, with places at the school for up to 35 scholarship students. This commitment to Indigenous education began around 20 years ago, with places funded by the College Foundation and the Old Boys of the school. Since then, more scholarship places have been added thanks to partnerships with Yalari and the Australian Indigenous Education Foundation.

Christopher Farnsworth coordinates the scholarship program. He says the school works in partnership with families to ensure the boys they accept have the best chance to succeed in the demanding academic environment at Riverview.

'Our aim is to get kids through the HSC and to university. Boys who come here have to be able to cope with an academic school. We have kids who come and look at us and say that we're not for them, and that's okay', he says. That's not to say all the students accepted at the school have to be academically gifted.

'We took a boy in year 10 who could not read when he came here. But he and his family had this burning desire for him to succeed, and he was obviously a bright kid. He finished school, and now he's at Melbourne University', says Chris.

The school currently has students from places as far afield as Darwin and Broome, with others from country NSW towns such as Moree, Dubbo, Coffs Harbour and Berri, as well as some from Sydney suburbs like Marrickville or Woolloomooloo.

At school events, the boys get to dress and paint themselves up as they perform their Indigenous dance for the community. Chris says all the boys participate in the dance, as a way to explain their culture to the rest of the school.

'They don't have to dance - they may do a reading or the sound. But most of the boys want to dance', he says. 'The dance is a Riverview dance. The boys choreographed it themselves, with some help from staff and our Indigenous cultural tutor.'

The cultural tutor is an Indigenous young man employed by the school. As well as helping with the dance, he goes to football games to watch the boys, visits to have a yarn with them, and goes on all their outings.

In addition, the school has a mentoring system, in which the students are paired up with Old Boys of the College.

'It's all done in partnership with the family, so that he may well go and represent the family at parent-teacher nights or careers days (particularly for remote families)', says Chris.

'They have three outings a year, and a mentor camp that goes to the mountains. The purpose is to get the boys together, to bond with each other and also to bond with their mentors.

'Keep in mind that like most Indigenous families, there are 80 per cent that do not have a dad. So there is a great need for males in the lives of the boys.'

The school offers the students regular lunches with successful young Indigenous men. Guests have included politician Aden Ridgeway and rugby union player Glen Ella, as well as young men in other professional fields.

Lincoln says the mentoring provides encouragement for the boys at the school.

'It encourages you to keep learning. You meet some good people, and get to listen to their story. They all have a good story behind them. They've had it tough', he says.

Fellow year 12 student Alex Barker is from Moree in New South Wales. He started at Riverview in year 7, and says it was difficult at first adjusting to life at the school.

'It was tough for the first term. I actually didn't like it at first', he says.

Having a cousin in his year, and support from older students at the school, helped convince him to keep going. Nowadays he is a mentor for Indigenous students in younger years.

When he graduates, Alex says he wants to study business, and work in Indigenous health. He says Riverview has given him more than just an education - it's given him a different way to look at the world.

'It gave me more awareness of the generosity of other people. You're more open to the world', he says.


Topic tags: indigenousaustralians, australianidentity, socialjustice–australia, religiousandculturaldiversity

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