The Aspiration Initiative Family Conference
Both organisations share a commitment to breaking down barriers to higher education for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples
The Aspiration Initiative (TAI) aims to increase support and opportunities for Indigenous Australian students, helping them realise their potential at school, university and beyond. TAI projects include international scholarships, the Indigenous Scholarships website, the Aurora Indigenous Scholars International Study Tour and a five and a half year academic enrichment program for high school students. The University of Canberra Aurora Project partnership hosted its first Family Conference this year.
- University of Canberra (UC)
- the Aurora Project
- The Australian National University (ANU)
- Commonwealth Department of Education
- Charlie Perkins Trust for Children and Students
- ACT Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education Consultative Group.
TAI’s academic enrichment program breaks down barriers to higher education for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. It provides intensive and ongoing educational and related support, primarily during holiday periods (academic camps), and also throughout the academic year. There are currently programs operating in New South Wales, Victoria and Western Australia, with 90 students. The program started when students were in Year 8 and continues for five and a half years. The recent Family Conference for parents and carers of TAI students held at UC in July 2014 was designed to share knowledge, increase families’ understanding of how to support their children’s academic aspirations, and provide information about higher education.
The project partners are mindful of the importance of engaging not just with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students but also with their families. Building ongoing relationships with the students’ families is a key part of the TAI academic enrichment program. From 25–27 July 2014, 18 parents and carers of students participating in TAI’s academic enrichment program in NSW and Victoria attended a Family Conference at UC. For many, this was their first time on a university campus.
Formal and informal sessions provided families with information about how they can best support their children through Years 11 and 12 and into university. Parents and carers were provided with information about study strategies, university admission processes, tertiary scholarships and adolescent social and emotional wellbeing. Family members were also given an opportunity to network with each other and with TAI and UC staff. Getting a feel for a university environment and the on-campus accommodation options available for students was a highlight for many of the participants.
In addition to the TAI and UC staff members participating in the conference, a number of visitors met with the families, including representatives from ANU, the Commonwealth Department of Education, the ACT Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education Consultative Group, and the ACT Office of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs. Families provided excellent ideas regarding how we can better work with them over the next few years and keep them informed, engaged and involved in the children’s journeys. For example, during the conference, families helped plan the next TAI camp curriculum around the theme of ‘growth’.
In a survey completed on the last day, 100 per cent of participants agreed that their expectations of the Family Conference were met, the conference was useful, beneficial and relevant, and that they would attend another conference. In addition, all participants agreed that it was extremely valuable to meet the TAI staff.
“Meeting all the parents and getting to know them and getting to see how TAI works together. It was really good to know that I’m not the only one going through it; everyone else is going through the same thing with their kids, their teenagers.” – participant.
In August 2012, the UC entered into a partnership with the Aurora Project to run several TAI initiatives. HEPPP funds were subsequently received to support the initiative, with support also provided by other groups and organisations. UC and TAI share a commitment to breaking down barriers to higher education for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and this commitment is fundamental to the strength of the partnership.
The partnership works because we have a clear set of expectations for both partners, detailed within a contract. We maintain frequent contact through phone conversations, face-to-face meetings, and regular meetings of our joint management group. UC’s Dean of Students sits on the TAI advisory committee, and provides input into the program’s objectives, operations and evaluations. Staff members from both organisations interact at key events and activities and work collaboratively around key issues such as risk management and program evaluation. Both organisations share a common philosophy that having high expectations is an important part of our approach in working with students, teachers and families. We also believe that the support has to be both broad and deep, and that having meaningful relationships not just with the students but with their schools, families and communities is important for the success of the project. We have learnt that it is important to maintain a frequent and open dialogue, which builds trust and ensures the smooth running of joint activities.
“Mental health session was invaluable and in hindsight could have been more comprehensive and gone longer.” – participant.
Upcoming activities include TAI’s tenth camp for students, to be held in Moruya, NSW and Melbourne, Victoria. The camp is designed for Year 11 students and the theme of the camp is ‘growth’. The camp will focus on political literacy and the development of an academic voice and standpoint. The camp will explore how students engage with TAI and the world – socially, culturally and academically – and will culminate in students producing writing that will be published on Dusseldorp’s online education and learning forum. In January 2015 the first TAI national camp was held, with the aim of expanding students’ support networks and offering educationally enriching activities that assist with senior study skills and focus on transition to university.
Further government funding for the project has been received, which will allow us to undertaken new activities.
“The sessions were all really informative but the most memorable would have to be the passion from all mentors and people involved, it is truly inspiring.” – participant.
This case study is one of a series of 31 presented in our case study publication, Partnerships in Higher Education.