Dance, stories and bush tucker helping to connect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students to their culture
Windsor High School student at Field of Dreams
Hundreds of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander high school students from across Western Sydney have gathered at the Western Sydney University Parramatta campus to take part in activities ranging from wood carving, dance classes, didgeridoo lessons, and bush tucker classes – all part of the University's successful Field of Dreams initiative.
Field of Dreams is an aspirations building program for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, and is a joint project between the University and the Elevation Foundation. It aims to demystify university for young high school students, strengthen their cultural identity, and promote the various pathways into higher education.
It brings Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students from high schools across Western Sydney and from regional and rural NSW to the University, where they take part in a wide range of fun and educational activities.
These include cultural workshops that teach them more about Indigenous story telling, dance and art, as well as classes to help develop students' study skills, leadership and career development goals.
It is just one of a number of programs that Western Sydney University has in place to support and raise the aspirations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students towards tertiary study, according to Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic) Professor Denise Kirkpatrick.
Professor Kirkpatrick says the University works very closely with high schools from across Greater Western Sydney and also from regional and rural areas of NSW on various schools engagement activities.
Field of Dreams has been running for the past 18 months and has 300 high school students from years 9-12 participating from 14 schools across western Sydney, as well as six schools from Bathurst and four schools from Dubbo.
"Field of Dreams is about building young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students' knowledge, skills and confidence," says Professor Kirkpatrick.
"Particularly through the cultural workshops, which cover things like traditional art, dance, bush tucker, and word carving, it helps to strengthen students' sense of self, belonging and cultural identity.
"Through the program students build meaningful connections with many successful Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander role models from a variety of careers.
"All those working on the program are also from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander backgrounds, which also helps the students to connect to their culture and share stories of their history."
Professor Kirkpatrick says Field of Dreams is helping to have a positive impact on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students' tertiary participation rates.
"60 per cent of the Year 12 students who took part in the program in 2015 transitioned into higher education this year, which is a fantastic result," says Professor Kirkpatrick.
"Overall, Western Sydney University has achieved a 67 per cent increase in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander student enrolments between 2010 and 2015, so we're very proud of all the programs we have in place to encourage more students from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander backgrounds to study at university.
"Education, training and employment are key to the economic and social success for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and, as a university situated within the largest single Indigenous community outside the Northern Territory, we have an important and distinct role to play in helping to realise this goal," says Professor Kirkpatrick.
Participating schools in Friday's event are:
* Erskine Park High
* Jamison High
* Windsor High
* Xavier College
* Caroline Chisholm College
* Fairvale High
* Ingleburn High
* Sarah Redfern High
* Prairiewood High
* Westfields Sports High
* Lurnea High
* Doonside High
* Rooty Hill High
* Plumpton High
* James Meehan High
* Macquarie Fields High
Other participating schools include Mitchell High, Patrician Brothers Blacktown, Oakhill College, and St Gregorys College Campbelltown.
9 January 2016
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