Efforts by city schools to support communities affected by drought are building connections between students living on different sides of the Great Dividing Range.
The Year 12 formal at Cecil Hills High School might not be as flash as the students originally planned, but they will celebrate the end of their school years knowing they have reached out to friends in need.
In response to the drought that is inflicting hardship on rural and regional communities across NSW, the Year 12 students donated part of their formal funds to help Year 11 and 12 students at drought-affected central schools at Peak Hill, Yeoval, Tottenham, Trangie, Tullamore and Trundle.
The money will help fund next year’s Western Access Program, which supports senior students from those schools to attend camp, study days and work placements.
Tottenham Central principal Amanda Thorpe said donations, like those from Cecil Hills High, had a big impact as it meant the rural students could still undertake important work and study placements despite their families having limited access to funds.
“I keep reminding our students how important it is to remember that no one has to help us; these people don’t even know us and we must always thank people for assisting us,” she said.
“I also remind students that one day, when we get the opportunity to help others, we must take it.”
Aside from practical, financial help, many city schools have used the connections made in the drought to develop deeper, ongoing sister-school relationships.
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Murat Dizdar, the department’s Deputy Secretary, School Operations and Performance, said the response by public schools to the drought was inspiring.
“It’s been such a privilege to see our school communities pull together and not only raise funds for the drought, but also make lasting connections with each other and demonstrate the power of collective support for our drought-affected communities,” he said.
“Our schools are phenomenal in supporting each other at such times of adversity.”
Tim McCallum, the department’s Regional North Executive Director, School Performance, said the relationships developed during the drought had a positive impact for all involved.
“A strong sense of collegiality, care and compassion enables school communities at both ends of the geographical divide to learn, prosper and develop as partners through these times of adversity and meaningfully connect into the future,” he said.
Epping Boys High School, for example, has developed an ongoing relationship with Tullamore Central School and last term hosted 21 students for a week of activities that included learning to surf and visits to the Opera House and Taronga Zoo.
Learning about life in the bush
Principal Tim O’Brien said his students learned a lot from the Tullamore students. “The Tullamore captain spoke to the school and it gave them a real perspective on what it was like to be a boy in the bush,” he said.
The school has committed to funding the year’s feed for Tullamore’s show animals and is looking at possible work placements on properties for some of the Epping boys.
Tullamore principal Rebecca Freeth said the generosity of the Epping Boys High community had blown the school away.
“It’s pretty depressing out here – our students look out the window and all they see is dust and death,” she said.
“Just to have a week away from hand-feeding sheep and cattle and not worrying about mum and dad and how tough they are doing it was really important.”
The values of public education on display
Trundle Central School principal John Southon said his school of 120 students had received great support from a number of schools including Mathew Pearce Public, Gosford High, Kiama High, Oakville Public and Colo High.
“We have distributed 135 food packages, 140 water deliveries, 270 kilograms of dog food and much more. Blacktown principals have donated enough books, pencils etc for all our children to have book packs,” Mr Southon said.
At the same time the school had opened its showers and amenities to the local community as in some areas there was not enough water on properties to wash clothes or bathe.
He said the ongoing relationship with Matthew Pearce Public in Baulkham Hills was an example of how the links were impacting his students. Around 70% of Matthew Pearce Public School students are from a language background other than English.
“Our students aren’t exposed to that kind of multiculturalism,” Mr Southon said. “They are electronically contacting the kids and breaking down barriers and preconceived stereotypes, which would never have happened before.”
Mr Southon said while the empathetic gestures would not solve the drought, they did keep morale up as it “lets people know they are not alone”.
“I am extremely surprised and humbled by people’s generosity – when you look at public education, the pillar on which it was built was equity and equality of opportunity and those very Australian values are still there because I see schools in the city reaching out and so willing to help.”