Country youth take their voices to the capital

NSW students are sharing their experiences of growing up in rural Australia to advocate for change.

Image: NSW delegates to the Rural Youth Ambassadors national forum. Back row, from left: Cordelia Lloyd (Guyra Central School and Aurora College); Claire Wight (Canowindra High School); Ben Caughey (Hay War Memorial High School and Aurora College); Jemma Walsh (Country Education Partnership) Front row: Nellie Witt (Alstonville High School); Abbey Marshal (Finley High School); Logan Scrivener (Gulgong High School); Harry Bottero (Tumut High School and Aurora College).

Seven NSW students from remote and rural schools have taken on ambassador roles to advocate for a better future for young people in the bush.

The students last week were part of a 20-strong group of rural students who lobbied key education leaders in the national parliament as part of the Rural Youth Ambassador program’s national forum.

It is the first year NSW students have been part of the program after its parent body, the Country Education Partnership, partnered with the NSW Department of Education’s virtual selective school, Aurora College,

The Rural Ambassador Program, founded in Victoria 10 years ago, aims to provide young people in rural and remote communities with the opportunity to develop their leadership skills and to provide a voice on rural and remote education.

Aurora College principal Chris Robertson said the NSW students had connected with other students from rural Victoria and South Australia to discuss the needs of students living outside metropolitan and regional centres.

NSW participant Cordelia Lloyd, in Year 12 at Guyra Central School and Aurora College, said in an article for Student Voices that the visit to Canberra had been an inspiring experience.

“We have learned there are no bounds to what we can achieve,” she writes.

As a group they had discussed key issues facing young people from rural Australia and the initiatives they would like to see taken to address them.

They had developed three key ideas:

  • A partnership between schools in a nearby radius that enables them to work together so that they may share resources and offer a broader range of subjects and extracurriculars to students.
  • A proactive approach to mental health issues that is student driven and better allows for teachers and parents to help students deal with mental health issues.
  • Bringing post-school pathways information to the bush via a travelling careers expo.

The group met with stakeholders across all levels of government as well as three national ministers whose portfolios relate to education and regional Australia: Andrew Gee, Alan Tudge and Dan Tehan.

Mr Robertson, who joined the group for part of the Canberra stay, said he saw the students grow in confidence as they presented to ministers.

“There was a great commitment from all the students to make a difference, both individually and as a collective,” he said.

“This is an exceptional leadership and advocacy program and Aurora College is very keen to continue the partnership.”

Country Education Partnership CEO Phil Brown said he was delighted the students could gather in Canberra despite the restrictions of Covid-19.

“It’s an excellent opportunity for the young people involved to meet with senior government officials and share their stories of growing up in rural Australia,” Mr Brown said.

“They have had many excellent discussions, meetings and built ideas about how we can make growing up rural an even better experience in Australia.”

Expressions of interest for the next cohort of NSW ambassadors will open in the next few weeks. The Aurora College website will provide information for rural and remote NSW government schools.

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