AISNSW Aboriginal Student Leaders Symposium: New Journey

The inaugural AISNSW Aboriginal Student Leaders Symposium: Where Will Your Journey Take You has marked the beginning of a new journey. A unique day of engagement in leadership discussion, the students in Years 10 to 12 came from metropolitan and regional NSW independent schools to meet like-minded students, gain encouragement and vision from mentors and participate in a series of empowering ‘yarning sessions’ with community and government representatives.

The first of its kind in the independent schools sector in NSW, the symposium was a resounding success according to the participating schools. Developed by AISNSW Aboriginal Education Consultant, Rosalyn Thomas (pictured below left), the symposium focused on building the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students’ confidence in their abilities, while reinforcing to them that education was the catalyst for their future leadership endeavours.

“The symposium aimed to highlight to the students how engagement in education can support them to become leaders in their community, and mentors for the next generation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students,” Ms Thomas said.

“We want students to come away understanding how education will help them reach their future aspirations.”

Participating organisations included the Aboriginal Education Consultative Group, Jumbunna University of Technology, Sydney, St Andrew’s Cathedral Gawura School, Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience and the Indigenous Literacy Foundation, which challenged the students to take the Great Book Swap program back to run in their schools.

An event highlight was the feedback sought from students by senior NESA staff including Dr Chris Evans, Chief Education Officer, Aboriginal Education and Paul Martin, Executive Director Quality Teaching, on the recently established Commitment to Aboriginal Education draft initiatives.

AISNSW Assistant Division Head: Education Regulations and Program Implementation, Caraline Cloke (pictured above right), said the NESA consultation was a powerful exercise because the students were able to voice their opinion in a forum that would help shape the direction of a formal state commitment.  

“There was a lot of positive feedback from the students – they’ve had some really strong experiences and were really thoughtful and heartfelt in the ideas they were providing because they recognised the opportunity to contribute to the direction of education across the state, Ms Cloke said.

According to school staff who accompanied the students, the symposium was a valuable connection point with long term benefits. Headmaster of Macleay Vocational College in Kempsey, Mark Morrison, attended with three of the college’s students, each of whom began to build relationships with other students and gain confidence in themselves.

"This has created a meeting place for them,” Mr Morrison said. “The students are a bit nervous and having them here might not show any dividend in the next three or six months but what it will do for their community and what it will do for them will pay dividends in 10 years from now.

“They’ll talk about this when they get back to college – that will inspire other people to want to come down here – it will allow other students and other schools within our community to know that we have a belonging to the AIS.”

Helen Clarke, Knox Grammar School’s Head of Diversity, Justice and Stewardship (pictured below left), said the program was enriching for her students and had the potential to greatly impact them and the school more widely.

“How can we get the word out that AIS is the hub of Indigenous education, a provider of teacher training but also allows the student voice?” she asked.

“Students need to realise that they can be leaders and will be leaders – and this is giving them role models – it’s not just talking at them; it’s putting them with the people at the front and saying, ‘I can do that’.”

Ms Clarke said when the students returned to school another yarning session would be held to continue building student capacity.

“I’m going to ask them, ‘What is one thing that they would each like to change’,” she said.

“It’s about developing their confidence in the school and taking every opportunity. What Lavinia Gibbs from Gawura School said was ‘Don’t look back – just go on grab it and move forward’.

“I can see the boys in the session were doing just that because some who are quite shy were just looking at me and nodding.”

Samuel’s story: from student to leader

Samuel Tribe Skinner (pictured below left), a Year 12 student at Macleay Vocational Education, was one of the 50 students who attended the AISNSW Aboriginal Student Leaders Symposium.

He was initially reluctant to attend the event but engaging in a formal program where he could contribute his experiences among peers proved to be on target.

“When Mr Morrison [Headmaster pictured below right] first told me about coming to Sydney I felt like it was going to be real shameful. I didn’t want to attend because I’m not good at talking to other people; like starting a conversation.

“But I have come down here and I feel alright being myself.”

Samuel said leadership was new to him, but it was a role that he felt completely comfortable with.

“At my old school I was never really there; I was always suspended so I never got the chance to be a leader, but at MVC I have the chance; I look out for everyone there – if they need me to do anything, I’ll do it.

“Leadership means I have a voice for other people who don’t. If they need a voice I’ll be the voice for them. It makes me feel happy that I’m doing something for other people.”

Samuel said having leaders to aspire to was one of the motivating forces for him.

“My Principal is someone I look up to,” he said.

“I can be a person they can look up to – some of them do look up to me – I’m like a big brother to them.”

The best thing about the symposium? “Meeting new people and gaining confidence.”