Aboriginal communities are strong, resilient and resourceful, and utilising those strengths in community has been vital to the success of a special new initiative in regional NSW.
It’s called Aboriginal Community Connectors, is led by the NSW Coalition of Aboriginal Peak Organisations (NSW CAPO) and is delivered in Tamworth by the Tamworth Local Aboriginal Land Council.
Aboriginal Community Connectors is the newest of six Premier’s Priority initiatives and aims to increase the number of Aboriginal students completing their HSC by 50% by 2023, while maintaining their cultural identity.
The Community Connectors link students and families with local culturally appropriate services to support and re-engage students in their education, increase their learning outcomes and improve HSC pathways.
It’s important work and is a leading example of what can be achieved when government works effectively with Aboriginal community-controlled organisations.
Kamilaroi woman Casey Howard is the Community Connector in Tamworth.
Casey has strong networks in her community, which has helped her establish and build positive relationships with Aboriginal students and their families as well as Aboriginal staff at local schools.
Casey Howard works with students in Year 10, until they complete their Year 12 Higher School Certificate.
Although educational achievement is an important focus, her work is also woven around the student’s connections to their country, culture and community.
For some students and their families it’s the first time that some of them have ever been asked “What do you need?” “How can I help support you?” Not only do the students see Casey as a support person and mentor, but also as family, someone who they trust and respect.
One of the students Casey supports is Sherri-Anne Sands-Green, with a goal to attain her HSC and broaden her horizons.
Sherri-Anne wanted more positive life opportunities and reached out to Casey after experiencing poor attendance along with multiple suspensions for behaviour.
Casey worked with Sherri-Anne to connect her with services and support, including counselling, physiotherapy and cultural mentoring. Sherri-Anne maintained her commitment to her life, education and family throughout her studies, and is now exploring a range of post-school options including policing and childcare.
Sherri-Anne says that knowing Casey had her best interests at heart, helped her to excel.
“I love how open and honest Casey was with me from the start. I felt that I could actually complete my HSC knowing I had her in my corner. My family also really like her,” she said.
Casey also supported another Year 12 student, Shauna Haines who recently became the first person in her family to graduate Year 12.
Both young women not only had the joy of educational achievement, but the excitement of preparing for a party – namely their Year 12 formal! Both were invited to the Tamworth Local Aboriginal Land Council, where clever staff members pampered them with a hair and makeup session before their big event in December 2021.
Casey’s also building supportive local relationships with organisations like the Tamworth Regional Astronomy Club Inc. The club has donated laptops to students who need one, as well as waiving its membership fee to any student who wants to join the club. The Tamworth LALC is also adding cultural richness to the club, by working together to prepare an exciting astronomy night at Trelawny Station, where Uncle Len Waters will teach young people about Aboriginal astronomy.
With a new year underway, this innovative pilot championed by CAPO, the NSW Department of Education and the Department of Premier and Cabinet, will continue to support Aboriginal students to realise their educational aspirations, strengthen them culturally and assist with building respectful and positive relationships in their families and community.
Casey takes a strengths-based and person-centered approach as Tamworth’s Community Connector and is excited about continuing to encourage and help build young people’s strength, resilience and resourcefulness across 2022.
The first image in this story was taken at the Tamworth Regional Astronomy Club Inc. It features from left to right: Spencer Edwards, Giann Howard-Jansen, Harrison Howard-Jansen and the Astronomy Club’s Peter Best.
All images in this story have been supplied by Casey Howard and are used with permission.
Here’s the Koori Mail’s story on the Aboriginal Community Connectors – click on the link below to download a PDF.