Support for Indigenous students

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Jane Bridges, SCS’ Wellbeing Specialist: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students PHOTO: Sydney Catholic Schools

Meet the Sydney Catholic Schools (SCS) alumna making a difference in Aboriginal students’ lives.

Jane Bridges, SCS’ Wellbeing Specialist: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, said she felt very proud to make a difference in Indigenous education.

A Ngunawal woman, from the Bell line of family from Yass, she helps teachers at SCS learn from families about the background, aspirations and strengths of their Indigenous students, in partnership with her colleague, Adam Daniels, who is the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community and Student Liaison Officer at SCS.

“Sydney is one of Australia’s biggest and fastest-growing Indigenous population hubs and SCS has responded to the requests of families to educate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students in a Catholic tradition,” Ms Bridges said.

Today there are 1093 Aboriginal students enrolled in SCS schools (40 more than in 2020), including at least 77 students who will sit their HSC this year.

“SCS is currently working on a focus of developing Aboriginal Studies in Stages 5 and 6 for all students and a Cultural Competency program is already accessible by all staff,” Ms Bridges said.

“As a system of schools we are enriched by the stories and spirituality that Aboriginal people bring to us daily.”

“The work that is being done is life-changing for individuals and Aboriginal families,” Ms Bridges said.

Other ways SCS supports Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students to succeed:

  • All Indigenous students are given personalised learning plans that engage with student and family goals. “The plans are dynamic and focus on success,” said Ms Bridges.
  • The staffing allocation model (SAM) is used by schools to ensure there are adequate teachers on-hand in key areas such as literacy, numeracy and extension work.
  • Pathways through VET. “These have had significant implications for improving retention and HSC completion rates,” Ms Bridges said.
  • Partnerships with external stakeholders such as NRL School to Work and Souths Cares provide support through mentoring, academic support and the provision of school-based apprenticeships and traineeships.
  • The CaSPA Murrawadeen Goodjarga program supports the cultural engagement of Indigenous students. “The program celebrates the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures of our students,” Ms Bridges said.
  • The employment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander teachers, Learning Support Officers and Specialists enhances student success and is a developing future focus.

A career led by Faith

Ms Bridges is a former student of St Declan’s Penshurst, St Joseph’s Girls School Kogarah and Mary Immaculate Ladies College Sutherland, who has worked in the area of Aboriginal education in Catholic schools for 20 years and in Catholic education for more than 30 years.

“I was the first female assistant principal in a Sydney Catholic boys high school (De La Salle Catholic College Caringbah) and I have a Medal of the Order of Australia for my work in Aboriginal education in Catholic education,” Ms Bridges said.

“Education was a priority for our family.”

“My father was Aboriginal and he was only allowed an education to Year 6, which he completed at Crown Street Public School in Surry Hills,” Ms Bridges said.

“Dad had a strong Catholic faith, so my brothers’ and sister’s education was fostered by the Sisters of St Joseph, the Marist Brothers and the Presentation Sisters.

“Each of us was challenged by our mum and dad to excel … [and] we have all pursued academic pathways and, in many ways, given to the Aboriginal communities of NSW.”