Big steps – high hopes

The team involved in the Transition Program.

The team involved in the Transition Program.

By Sandy Russo and John Adams
For any young person the transition from primary to secondary school and from childhood to adolescence can be one of the most challenging and exciting changes that they and their families will experience. For indigenous kids on Cape York, the transition from primary to secondary school often means taking a giant leap into the unknown. The step up into high school takes most secondary aged kids on Cape York away from everything that is familiar to them. Whether students are just starting out in grade eight or returning to complete later grades, each term they brave leaving behind the small and often close-knit community that they’ve spent their entire lives in, to attend a boarding school in an unfamiliar town or city which is often thousands of kilometres away.
The need for support:
Getting used to travelling the physical distances to and from boarding school four times a year, overcoming homesickness, adjusting to a completely different cultural context, learning how to cope with the new demands of secondary school and getting used to sharing a living space with hundreds of students from all over Queensland are just some of the challenges that Cape York kids need to overcome on the way to making it through the five years of secondary schooling. It’s not surprising that some students don’t make it through this experience to complete year twelve. In the past, less than 60% of Indigenous kids have completed year 12 compared to more than 80% of non-Indigenous students.

Courtney Hobson, from the Kuku Y'au language group, comes from Lockhart River where she attended primary school from years one to seven.

Courtney Hobson, from the Kuku Y'au language group, comes from Lockhart River where she attended primary school from years one to seven.

The support that is available:
To help close this gap in Queensland, the Department of Education, Training and The Arts acknowledges the need to support secondary aged students and their families. A number of initiatives exist that target the retention of students from isolated communities to year twelve. One such initiative is the Transition Support Service (TSS) which is delivered through the Far North Queensland Indigenous Schooling Support Unit.
The service assists young people and their families to navigate their way through the challenges of choosing a suitable school, applying to it, attending it and staying enrolled to complete year twelve. Preparing students for this move away from home is a complex task. The Transition Support Service works with primary schools across Cape York, their parents, caregivers, Community Support Officers, Government Agencies (like ABSTUDY) and destination schools to prepare students academically, socially, emotionally, financially and physically to make the transition from primary school to and through secondary school.
Currently there are three Transition Support Officers based in Cairns, and one officer each based in Townsville, Rockhampton and Brisbane. Transition Support Officers meet Cape York students as they fly in and out of these major regional centres. As well, the officers visit students weekly at twenty-nine schools across Queensland. On these weekly visits, Transition Support Officers meet with students to listen to them and the staff that work with them and pass on messages and photos from family and friends. Most importantly they support students to work through the things that need to be addressed in their school and boarding life. They might put in time with a student to work out strategies for overcoming homesickness; they might address a learning need, help stitch on a button, write a letter home or help a student to resolve a conflict. Whatever the task, the Transition Officer fills the role of a significant person in the students’ lives who they know will be there once a week for them to connect with and to offer them care, support and direction.

Miles Kerindun is a young Wik Waya man from the community of Aurukun. He is following in his father's footsteps by completing his secondary schooling at St Augustine's College in Cairns.

Miles Kerindun is a young Wik Waya man from the community of Aurukun. He is following in his father's footsteps by completing his secondary schooling at St Augustine's College in Cairns.