Thirty-eight eager Indigenous students came to Melbourne this week from right across Australia to participate in the Raise the Bar Academy, a program delivered through a partnership between Athletics Australia’s Athletics for the Outback initiative and Melbourne University Sport.
The students, who were successful in completing a competitive application process, range from years 10-12, with across Western Australia, Queensland, Northern Territory, New South Wales and South Australia. Four come from remote Halls Creek, WA, Jabiru NT, Wagait Beach NT and Groote Eylandt, NT while 20 students come from regional areas to take part in the program.
The Raise the Bar Academy aims to inspire Indigenous secondary school students to elevate their athletic and academic aspirations; to understand that it is possible, and even essential that they pursue academic- and sport-goals concurrently and; to educate Indigenous secondary school students that participation in sport can complement and open doors to professional opportunities.
“We are using athletics as the engagement tool to raise aspiration around higher education, particularly with study opportunities at the University,” said program founder Carl Junot. Junot noted the program’s success, in which three Raise the Bar Academy students have successfully matriculated into undergraduate courses at the University.
Just 61% of Indigenous students complete year 12, compared to 86% of their non-Indigenous counterparts.
For those students who go on to higher education, Indigenous university graduates find work more quickly than their non-Indigenous counterparts and have, on average, higher commencing salaries. Indigenous graduates also have very high levels of employment. In 2016 over 74 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander graduates were in full-time employment compared with 70.9 per cent of non-Indigenous graduates (Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching, 2016).
“Athletics is a sport for all Australians and we continue to work to ensure that it is accessible to everyone in this country,” said Athletics Australia CEO, Darren Gocher. “We believe that athletics builds the foundation for Australians to lead healthy and active lives.
“If the Raise the Bar Academy can help close the education gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, this is something that we can be proud of.”
Among the students in Melbourne this week, is Travis Kennel (Groote Eylandt, NT) who started his journey on the Friday before the Academy. This is the second year that Travis has attended the Raise the Bar Academy. Travis is the first person in his community of Anurugu to graduate from Year 12 (2017) in the last 50 years.
Another is Paige James (Perth, WA) who was the first Indigenous Australian to represent Australia in an international gymnastics competition. Paige is another of the participants to be part of the program for a second year. Paige has spent the last year converting her gymnastics talents to pole vaulting. She is currently training with Paul Burgess and Alex Parnov at WAIS.
Mentors include 2017 University Sport team and student-athlete captain Stella Radford and Australian double Paralympian Torita Blake (nee Isaac). Athletics Australia Community Partner Coles, also hosted the students for a MasterChef-inspired mystery box challenge.
In addition to skill based activities, students have opportunities to connect with sports industry professionals and some of Australia’s best athletes, including national record-holder, two-time Olympian, and Commonwealth Games bronze medallist Patrick Johnson who holds a host of university degrees including Asian studies and human rights. Johnson was joined by Dr Tara Purcell, an Indigenous Doctor of Medicine/Master of Public Health graduate from the University for a stirring Q&A session led by the students at the academy’s final night celebration.
Applications for the 2019 Raise the Bar Academy intake will open later this year.