For many children living in remote parts of Australia, when they reach high school they leave home to continue their education at a school in a larger regional centre or city. It is a dramatic change for a young person used to the freedom of a large property adjusting to boarding school life a long way from family.
Seven young people who start boarding school this year took part in a two-day workshop in Georgetown, North Queensland, designed to arm them with the skills and resilience needed to enter the next stage of their lives.
Frontier Services Savannah Regional Health Service created the MoveY program as an opportunity for young people to participate in a fun and interactive workshop where they can pick up skills and knowledge to take with them as they move to boarding school.
Anna Burley, who coordinated the program, said the goal was to develop young people’s confidence, resilience, problem solving techniques and skills.
“Moving away has a great impact on these children, some as young as 11. They suddenly find themselves in a highly structured environment, a long way from family and from the freedom they experienced living on a remote property,” Ms Burley said.
“The ultimate aim is to arm the kids with the skills and knowledge they need to deal with the sorts of issues they may encounter during their boarding school years.”
The seven young people who took part in the program came from all corners of the Etheridge and Croydon Shires as well as distance education students who came from as far as four hours away.
They took part in a range of activities covering topics such as mental health, alcohol and other drugs, puberty and relationship issues as well as cyber safety.
Emily Murphy, 11, from a station two hours north of Hughenden, was one of the participants in the program. Emily completed primary school with the Charters Towers School of Distance Education using telephone and internet classes. This year she will start high school and join her brother at The Cathedral School in Townsville where she has gained a scholarship.
While nervous about starting a new school, Emily is looking forward to making new friends and taking part in extra-curricular activities like music, art and drama.
Emily said the MoveY program was a good thing for young people going to boarding school as it taught them more about the sorts of things their peers living closer to town might already know. She particularly enjoyed the team building games and an activity which involved wearing “drinking goggles” to gain a better understanding of the effects of alcohol.
Fellow distance education student Jack Ryan, 12, from Ballynure Station in the south east corner of the Etheridge Shire, was initially very excited about starting boarding school but is feeling the nerves as his first day gets closer.
His mother, Miranda, will miss Jack, her eldest, very much, but said it was time for her son to broaden his schooling experience and enjoy time spent with his peers. Taking part in MoveY helped Jack consider the sorts of topics and behaviour he might come across at boarding school.
“The program introduced Jack to a variety of issues that he has not had to experience or deal with before – such as bullying, internet and texting protocol, a little bit about sex education and drugs,” said Miranda.
“The best part was that Jack did the course with his peers rather than me trying to talk about this at home one-on-one. I think he listened and focused better and took it more seriously.”
In its fifth year, the program was delivered in collaboration with local Queensland Education and Queensland Police services with further assistance from the Queensland Health Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drug Service based in the Tablelands.
Anna Burley said: “All the discussions are interactive and all questions and concerns are answered. The idea is to correct the information the children have about different topics. We instil in them that not all events or interactions that friends impose upon them should be kept secret, and getting help may be a better way of being a friend than not doing anything about the situation. We also help them to identify people within the boarding school and wider community who are able to assist with any problem or concern they have.”
The program was tailored specifically to young people from remote or rural backgrounds. Ms Burley emphasised the unique situation for children from isolated areas.
“When young people move away from this area to go to boarding school, it may be the last time we see them for a long time, particularly if they want to attain further education beyond their schooling years. Sometimes they do not come back to the area again. This has a big impact on families, but also on the community. What we are trying to do is give them the best start we can before they make the next step.”