From small town to big smoke
Education reporter Amy McNeilage documents the struggle of two indigenous boys from a small country town fitting in at one of Sydney's most prestigious private schools.PT1M10S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-2rn11 620 349 August 9, 2013
When Lincoln Whiteley arrived at Saint Ignatius' College, Riverview in year 7, the school was three times the size of his home town.
''I knew it was going to be massive but it was just ridiculous,'' the 17-year-old, who grew up in Geurie, about 30 kilometres south-east of Dubbo, said. ''But now I'm used to it and it's nothing.''
Lincoln is one of a growing number of indigenous students boarding at prestigious private schools.
Boarding call: Saint Ignatius' College students Lincoln Whiteley, Denzel Tighe and Alex Barker. Photo: Janie Barrett JEM
Removing Aboriginal children from their communities is a sensitive issue. But some leading indigenous educators have endorsed boarding school scholarships as an initiative that could help some students escape the cycle of disadvantage.
Almost 3000 indigenous students are enrolled in boarding schools this year, according to the Australian Boarding Schools Association.
It is the first year the association has collected accurate figures but executive director Richard Stokes said the number of indigenous boarders was growing ''enormously, exponentially I'd say''.
Lincoln and 23 of his peers who board on Yalari scholarships were congratulated by Governor-General Quentin Bryce in Canberra on Friday for reaching year 12.
It represents a significant achievement for the not-for-profit organisation, which has grown from five graduates in 2010 and boasts a retention rate of 90 per cent.
In a speech earlier this year, indigenous academic Marcia Langton called for more partnerships between indigenous communities and top schools to enable more children to go to boarding school.
The Australian Indigenous Education Foundation is leading the pack with its rapidly expanding scholarship program, which has grown from one student in 2008 to almost 300 last year.
And St Joseph's College at Hunters Hill, which was one of the first metropolitan boarding schools to introduce a significant indigenous program, now has between 30 and 40 indigenous students each year, which is about 5 per cent of its boarding population.
But Yalari founder, Waverley Stanley, admits sending students from remote areas to boarding school is not without its challenges.
''For some of these children, for the first time in their life they're sleeping in a room by themselves in a bed without any siblings around,'' he said. ''For some, playing football on a grass oval instead of hard red dirt is different, or going to sleep without any barking dogs around is different.''
For it to work, he said, parental support was vital.
''It's about picking the right children, with the right family support to go to the right school,'' he said.
Stanley admits a number of students have dropped out.
But, of the 64 who have graduated, some have gone on to study physiotherapy, dentistry, teaching, fashion and vet science.
''I always remind these children that the only difference between this generation and their grandparents is educational opportunities.''