For the fifth consecutive year, Athletics Australia and the University of Melbourne have partnered to host the Raise the Bar Academy (RTBA). Raise the Bar Academy is an exciting residential camp program specifically for Australian Indigenous secondary school students in years 10, 11 and 12, who aspire to participate in athletics and study at university.
The six-day camp sees 33 participants selected to experience the all-expenses paid program, with residency at the University of Melbourne. The experience is designed to develop knowledge and skills in athletics, with the participants enjoying training sessions with Athletics Australia accredited coaches, elite athletes and industry professionals. The camp also has a strong focus on inspiring its participants to successfully complete secondary school and pursue further education, exposing the school students to the educational pathways offered at the University of Melbourne.
Torita Blake, an Indigenous athlete and two time Paralympian , has been involved as a RTBA mentor over the last four years of the program, but has been particularly inspired by the enthusiasm of this year’s cohort. “The kids this year have been so positive and interactive. They are not only meeting new friends and having fun, but they are clearly developing their leadership potential and deepening their passion for athletics,” said Blake.
Kyle Vander-Kuyp, Australian Olympian and Raise the Bar Academy Coach, has similarly been involved in this week’s program, leading training sessions and being available as a mentor to the participants.
“Through the motivation of sport and being active, this program really inspires and helps young people to do something positive in their lives - whether its aiming for the highest level in athletics or simply learning the balance of keeping active while pursuing your academic goals,” said Vander-Kuyp.
This year’s program has seen a great mix of ages, with participants coming from every corner of the country. Many had never left their home towns, the remoteness of some meaning six flights were taken just to reach Melbourne. While this diversity is celebrated, with individual stories and experiences shared, the camp is also about making connections and networking.
“Everyone is a bit shy to begin with,” says Kyle, “but as the week goes on, you witness the energy and positivity grow, and the kids leave connected and proud.”
A RTBA participant for the third year in row, Paige Nyanju Jillu James is a true success story of the program. Showing dedication and commitment to athletics following her first year participating in the RTBA in 2017, she was invited to attend again in 2018, and then again this year in a mentorship capacity.
While pursuing her discipline of pole vault, Paige was also accepted into Melbourne University last year to study a Bachelor of Science.
“This program is really effective in opening your eyes to the possibilities of what you can do after school. You not only learn about the different University faculties and degree offerings, but you are also told about the various scholarships, college bursaries and Indigenous pathways you can apply for. This makes further education accessible and possible.”
In addition to training and learning about education opportunities, there is also plenty of fun to be had during the week, including basket weaving, “yarning” sessions, and visits to some of Melbourne’s most iconic destinations such as the Queen Victoria Markets.
This year’s group also spent an interactive afternoon at Coles Headquarters, where a ‘cook-off’ took place to determine the best burger and sauce. Coles also used the opportunity to inform the RTBA participants of their Indigenous and graduate programs, which offer a range of employment opportunities across all facets of the Coles business.
The popularity of this program is evident in the fact that many participants re-apply to return following their first experience. Participants arrive home to their communities determined to continue their education, and motivated to participate in athletics. Most importantly, they leave proud about their cultural heritage and excited about their potential.