Here in Townsville Catholic Education, we have been blessed with a very productive relationship with the National Indigenous Australians Agency, formerly operating out of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. Spanning ten years, our department has developed and delivered various scholarship and support programs for our Indigenous students. It is from this foundation that our latest program, the First People’s Emerging Leaders Incentive Scheme, was born.

Kicking off in 2018, Emerging Leaders is a dynamic reimagination of previous scholarship programs, redefining what it means to support our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students through their secondary studies and beyond. Informed by Stronger Smarter principles and our own internationally recognised research ‘Pedagogy of Difference’, we work with community and schools to develop targeted programs that address educational disadvantage.

The concept of ‘high expectations relationships’ is core to our work: it affirms students’ unique strengths and cultural identity, while also providing staff with the tools and understandings they need to authentically connect with students and their families. As experienced Aboriginal educators, we know that students learn best when:

• they feel cared for and engaged with their learning,
• teachers know their students and the complexities of Indigenous education,
• families are welcomed and valued members of the school community, and,
• schools implement high quality teaching strategies.

Emerging Leaders tells students that they are already on the journey to success, whatever that might look like. It’s our job to provide the right environment that will see them thrive. In many ways, Emerging Leaders enacts a culture of change around achievement, seeing measurable results and positive outcomes.

An important part of this program is that it’s built on the value of equity. Rather than off er a limited number of scholarships, every Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander secondary student is eligible f or Emerging Leaders. We are only halfway into the project and have already reached capacity at 600 students – a take-up rate of 98%.

Once on the program, families are supported by a school f ee subsidy and uniform allowance. This subsidy does not cover the sum of school fees, but it goes a long way to removing a significant barrier facing our families. Many parents have said that, without the financial assistance available from Emerging Leaders, they couldn’t afford to enrol their child at a Catholic school. Every family’s situation is different, and from a Catholic social justice perspective, we wanted to be able to support those students and families that need it the most.

While we have designed Emerging Leaders to be more equitable, we wanted to keep elements that celebrate and reward our students. This is wher e the Incentive Scheme comes in. It’s a wholly unique concept that encourages students to reach targets within the three pillars of the scheme: attendance, academic improvement and engagement.

The driving factors behind these incentives are personal to each student. Acknowledging that our strengths and skills walk hand in hand with our personal motiv ations, each student articulates a Personal Incentive Goal. If, by the end of the y ear, they have reached their pillar targets, they are awarded a reimbursement toward their goal. Examples of Personal Incentive Goals include sporting costs, music lessons, educational devices (laptops), future university costs and bikes to get to school.

In 2018 and 2019, students took up the challenge offered by Emerging Leaders with enthusiasm, resulting in some fantastic achievements. Across the Diocese, 75% of students achieved an Incentive Level. This translates into students achieving a minimum of 90% overall attendance, working diligently towards academic improvement, especially in regard to literacy and numeracy, and being engaged in a wide range of school, community and cultural activities. This is an incentive scheme that benefits students, parents, and schools and w e hope to continue our successes. Such is the confidence in the Emerging Leaders Incentive Scheme, that we have proudly accepted a funding boost and project extension which will take us through to the end of 2022. In the end, we are all working towards the same goal: closing the gap and providing equitable outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.

Krista is a Kalkadoon and Arrernte woman from Mount Isa who is the Project Manager for the Emerging Leaders Incentive Scheme at Townsville Catholic Education. The project is an ambitious one: delivered at 11 secondary schools representing vastly different communities and contexts, it supports 600 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. A true product of North Queensland, Krista studied Secondary Education through James Cook University while completing a teaching cadetship via the National Indigenous Cadetship Program. After teaching at her alma mater Good Shepherd Catholic College, Mount Isa, for seven years, she moved to Townsville with her young family to take on her current role. A dedicated advocate for Indigenous education and social justice issues, Krista is studying towards a Masters of Human Rights.