Often you have to look back over your working career to appreciate the best job you ever had.
But for April Flannery it is ‘hands down’ the job she has today, working with Aboriginal students from Muswellbrook High School in the New South Wales Hunter Valley.
“It’s an incredible job because I get to support Aboriginal students to achieve their full potential both educationally and personally.
“It’s so powerful and rewarding to lift their expectations and see them appreciate just how much talent and potential they have,” she said.
Her role is as an after-school tutor and program coordinator for the Follow the Dream/Partnerships for Success program, run by the Graham (Polly) Farmer Foundation.
“Graham was one of the early Aboriginal AFL players, although until I joined the Foundation I didn’t know of him because I grew up watching rugby league in Queensland,” she said.
In fact, Graham Farmer was a star AFL player who played more than 100 games for the prestigious Geelong Football Club and was considered one of the best offensive players in the game.
But it is off the field that he has made his greatest ‘mark’, by establishing the Foundation in 1994 and the first program for secondary students in 1997 in the Pilbara region of WA.
“Polly realised there was a huge gap in opportunities for aspirational Aboriginal students who were highly motivated but needed targeted tutoring, mentoring and other support to succeed at school,” said April.
Today, Follow the Dream/Partnerships for Success is currently operating in 33 locations in Western Australia, South Australia, the Northern Territory and New South Wales.
April explained, “I coordinate a team of people to provide after-school tutoring at the Enrichment Centre in Muswellbrook 4 afternoons each week. Students receive tutorial support, mentoring, resilience building and other activities that enhance their capacity to succeed. The tutors work with students on homework, general skills building and planning for their post-school futures. We respond to the needs of the students so it is anything they need help with.”
The aim is to get students through Year 12 and into university or employment pathways like apprenticeships, traineeships or full-time work.
Nationally, more than 730 Aboriginal students have graduated from year 12 with the help of the program.
“We've had a great success rate at Muswellbrook. In the past 2 years, I’ve seen five students go on to university, one go on to TAFE and another straight into an apprenticeship,” she said.
April explained that there is a lot more to her work than just helping students attain better grades.
“It is really about mentoring them so they can see the pathways that are open to them. It’s about helping them realise their potential and that just like anyone else, they are able to achieve their goals and dreams.
“I have a different relationship with them than their day-to-day teachers and in some ways I feel like I have become more of an advocate for these young people,” she said.
The program only becomes established in a community by invitation from local schools and/or Aboriginal communities because as April explained, “It’s only when schools and communities really value what the Foundation offers that we achieve success and that the students know it’s a privilege to be in the program.”
To join the program students must have a high school attendance record and achieve a minimum of C grade averages.
The Foundation and its programs are supported by government and Australian companies like BHP.
This means supporting Foundation centres across Australia, which locally is through the company’s Mount Arthur Coal mine in Muswellbrook.
“We take the students to do pit tours and one of the BHP team is a tutor in our program. There is much more to our relationship with BHP than simply financial support.”
“It’s really tangible to see the success the students achieve and seeing them work so hard makes it an incredibly rewarding experience because I see the results and I know what we are doing is working.”