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Program opens door to university for Indigenous kids


Brigid Veale
19 February 2009
Encouraging Indigenous kids to complete their schooling and go on to university is the aim of a mentoring program which has now spread from Sydney and Wollongong north to Coffs Harbour.

The Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience (AIME), an Indigenous not-for-profit corporation, has joined forces with Southern Cross University to run the program from the Coffs Harbour campus.

Leading the program in the North Coast region is Clark Webb, a Bundjalung/Gumbaynggirr man who finished Year 12 at Coffs Harbour High School before completing an archaeology degree at Sydney University.

Having been a mentor in the program for three years, he knows the difference it can make for Aboriginal kids and he’s keen to see the program work in his home town.

“The Indigenous region which includes Coffs Harbour (from the Queensland border to north of Sydney) has the third highest population of Aboriginal people in Australia. It is attracting a lot of people in from other areas," Clark said.

“This is hands-down the most comprehensive education program I have seen for Aboriginal people."

AIME was started by Jack Manning Bancroft in Sydney in 2005 with 20 kids in Year 9. It now involves more than 700 students from Years 9 to 12 who are linked with mentors from the University of Sydney (city and Cumberland campuses) and Wollongong University.

“The goal is to increase school attendance and to get more Aboriginal kids through the School Certificate and HSC and then increase attendance at university,” Clark said.

“One of the biggest problems is that there can be an internal barrier – sometimes Aboriginal people have a fear or a feeling that we can’t succeed. We need to break that down and show these kids clear pathways. We need to show the kids Aboriginal people can succeed in education - we’re not just good at sport.”

Clark said the attitudes of the high school students towards school changed considerably after participating in the program.

"Before AIME 40 students from a sample of 60 indicated they did not want to complete Year 12. After only six weeks in the AIME program this figure reduced to less than five students of the 60," he said.

The program involves volunteer university students who provide mentoring on a one-on-one basis with Aboriginal students ranging from Years 9 to 12. In Year 9, the program is based around interactive activities including art, hip hop and drama, in Year 10 there is a leadership program and for Years 11 and 12 there is tutoring and assistance in things such as subject selection.

All the mentors undertake a training program and receive ongoing support, as well as social activities.

Clark said he was aiming to involve up to 170 Aboriginal students from high schools in Coffs Harbour during 2009, using 100 mentors from Southern Cross University.

“Depending on the success this year, we’ll be looking to expand further into the North Coast. Our first goal is to recruit the mentors we need from SCU students,” he said.

“The mentors probably get just as much out of this program as the kids. For most mentors this is the first time they’ve been involved with Aboriginal people and it’s a real eye opener. It’s also great experience working with young people.

“For students doing education degrees it’s a great way to build their confidence and to give them an understanding of some of the issues in schools.”

Dr Rosie Wickert, head of Coffs Harbour campus, said the University was pleased to support the program.

“This is an important initiative which works to enhance the participation of Indigenous young people in university education. It fits very well with Southern Cross University’s focus on providing opportunities for Indigenous students and the work being done by Gnibi College of Indigenous Australian Peoples,” Dr Wickert said.

Southern Cross University students who are interested in becoming a mentor should contact Clark Webb on 0450 319 898 or email [email protected]. For further information on the program visit the website

Photo: Clark Webb is looking for Southern Cross University students to be involved in a mentoring program for Aboriginal high school students.