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Building Community in Melbourne

Kelly Salance

Building trust is not something that can be done overnight. Ed Tudor, executive director of Melbourne Indigenous Transition School (MITS), knows this well. When he set out to tackle one of Australia’s largest social issues – decreasing the educational gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth – he knew it began with trust.

In Australia, the disparity between Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth’s education is staggering, only 59% of Indigenous 20-24 year olds have completed Year 12, compared to 88% of non-Indigenous Australians.  MITS began its journey to address this issue by speaking with many parents in the remote Northern Territory, an area known for its high Indigenous populations. In fact, the Northern Territory, has the highest proportion of Australia’s Indigenous population, accounting for 25 percent of the country’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. That same population, however, is unfortunately mired in poverty, with nearly 45 percent of Indigenous households in the Northern Territory falling below the poverty line.

Photo by Sarah Black Photography

Photo by Sarah Black Photography

With that, it’s not surprising that Indigenous families are excited to give their children the opportunity to further their education. Yet, the transition from a remote community to a bustling city is not an easy one.  It certainly doesn’t happen overnight. Not surprisingly many Indigenous students struggle with this transition. Which is why MITS believes in offering a soft landing to this new life, in the form of a transitional year, between primary and secondary education. During that year, students are fully supported to find their identity, fit into the community, and become accustomed to “city-life.” In doing this, MITS believes students can then immediately thrive once they begin their mainstream schooling.

Through this transition year, 22 students are provided accommodations on a historic property named Lockington, in the Vaucluse, Richmond. The grounds consist of two separate living quarters -- one for the boys and one for the girls -- common spaces for meals, studying and free time, and a community fire pit for free evenings.  

Photo by Sarah Black Photography.

Photo by Sarah Black Photography.

A typical day at MITS starts with a 7am wake up call, breakfast as a group in the kitchen and then a short walk down the hill to school at the Richmond Football Club for the day. Here the students have 6 lessons each day; two literacy, two numeracy, and two that broaden the curriculum with Art, History, and PE. As Tudor notes, “Being in the Richmond Football Club for school is extremely valuable. It is a culturally strong place, with a long and proud history of supporting and celebrating Indigenous people and culture. It is also a place of high expectations where everyone is working hard every day to achieve their best.” This inspiring setting paired with a consistent daily schedule helps students in their transition. MITS believes, “Well-being is central to the continuing success of its students, and tailors its programs to reflect this philosophy.” After the busy year, students earn scholarships at one of 20 partner schools in Melbourne, MITS continues to stay involved after the transition year, providing support to their alumni, their new schools and their families back home.

MITS’ first-ever cohort of students graduated in 2016 and the transition school saw some early positive results -- 17 of their 22 students successfully transitioned to secondary schools in Melbourne. Despite this success, MITS realizes that for some students, being away from their family and having to trust in a new support system proved difficult.  This is why the school works to make MITS feel like home by honoring many Northern Territory traditions, such as a smoking ceremony at the start of the year to clear bad spirits away,  and having a Welfare Officer on staff for counseling if needed.

Meanwhile, in an effort to build trust with parents and prospective students, staff used a grant from the Zendesk Neighbor Foundation to produce a virtual reality video tour of the school. They now bring the video with them to remote areas when they are meeting students and their families. This tour helps build a connection of where their child will be going and builds immediate trust between the family and MITS. “Trust is built through consistency, kindness and genuine respect shown every day,” Tudor says and is essential to the success of their program.

While at MITS, students explore pathways that are both academic and vocational, in Melbourne, as well as other cities and back home. Students are encouraged to realise their own version of success, articulating their dreams and aspirations, setting goals, and working hard to achieve them. Yet the key ingredient for making aspirations realities is building trust.

Learn more about how you can support MITS here