Living and Learning together: Cape York Girl Academy
The Cape York Girl Academy is Australia’s first boarding school designed for young Indigenous mothers and their babies, and for girls who have been chronically disengaged from their education.
Located just north of Cairns at Wangetti Beach, it may be small in size, but it is profound in effect.
Mums and babies live and learn together, and non-mothering students also live and learn at the girl Academy. The holistic program supports Indigenous girls to re-engage with, and complete their education, by attaining either a Queensland Certificate of Education (QCE) or a Queensland Certificate of Individual Achievement (QCIA).
Teenage pregnancy is one of the most common reasons for Cape York girls dropping out of school. Through yarning circles and community consultations, Cape York women asked for a place for girls to finish their schooling, to gain work skills and qualifications and to grow themselves and their children as future family role models.
Here, they are supported to complete their education, gain essential work and life skills, improve, and maintain their physical, social, and emotional well-being and learn essential parenting skills to care for their own children. Currently there are 15 young Indigenous women students and two young children in this program, who attend an on-site Early Learning Centre, enabling young mothers to complete their education.
First Nations culture is embedded in every aspect of the learning program, with activities such as storytelling and culture circles scheduled during daily well-being sessions. The introduction of school captains in 2021 helped promote cultural learning and leadership, along with strong, Indigenous Heads of School women.
“Despite the challenges of 2021, the graduating Year 12 class are exiting with clear pathways to post-school destinations, including work, further education and traineeships. Industry areas include Business Administration, Sport and Recreation, and Parks and Wildlife,” says school Principal, Marnie Parker. Of the 2021 students finishing, one wants to become a lawyer, another wants to complete a Bachelor’s degree in Social Work and one student undertook a traineeship in Business Administration.
It is a mandate of the Academy to walk alongside students and create pathways to their dream job. Students are encouraged to think about the kind of future they want for themselves once school has finished.
Mercy Works hopes to enhance social emotional wellbeing through the implementation of an online school dashboard which allows student data management, collation of data, including pastoral notes between day school and boarding, and secondly to support, track and review student goals through implementation of Individualised Learning Plans and individualised learning enrichment.
The iPads were purchased in Semester 2 of 2021 and are currently used across a number of subjects at Girl Academy and has resulted in far broader outcomes than initially expected! Being a highly portable device, students were able to access and track learning outside the classroom in areas such as the commercial kitchen, the local gym and their natural environment and surrounds. Owing to these success, Cape York Girl Academy are expanding the iPad program into a joint project with boarding staff that develops and enhances student knowledge of: Food and nutrition for toddlers, teenagers and young adults; Food and safety hygiene; Budgeting; Cooking for special occasions and Literacy and Numeracy skills required at home and in the workplace.
This project will be delivered under ‘Independent Living Skills’ – a QLD Curriculum and Assessment Authority (QCAA) recognised Studies course that contributes 2 credits towards the QCE.
The school is a healing community that nurtures and supports effective and confident mothers, safe and happy children and offers opportunities for growth, a sense of belonging and a space to find their voices. The relationship between a child and their mum has a significant effect on a child’s development, and that is why at Cape York Girl Academy students and their babies learn together and grow together.
WHY IT MATTERS
If you educate a girl, in mind, body and spirit, she can change her world – Our Sisters, Cape York Partnership
“The Girl Academy is a really good school for me and my daughter because they really help me a lot and really supported me. They’ve been there for me during my ups and downs, helping me out with Alessia while I go to class. The teachers here and staff members have been supporting me and helping me out with my schoolwork and my daughter.[This school] has really made me who I am. Me being here is like I can be whoever or whatever I want to be. And this school gave me the tools to be that person. Being a strong mother, a role model…..
“It is a second chance for me to follow my career and achieve every goal. I don’t really feel like I was educated that much. But I learned from my mistakes. And life is about learning. As long as you make some changes in life. This school is my big chance. I want her to be healthy and fit. I want her to have a better life. Going to school, education comes first – and keeping [our] culture strong and having a better education you can can connect to anything” – Rahenna, mum to Alessia (*courtesy of Our Sisters, Cape York Partnership)