Youth benefiting from rural mentoring program

In Western Australia, a group of women are helping rural secondary school students in Bruce Rock expand their horizon through a successful mentoring program.

CEP’s Joe Collins recently visited the group to find out more about how they are inspiring young people to explore a diverse range of career options. Bruce Rock District High School principal Janine Dayman explains below how the program has grown over the years and how dedicated volunteers and strong partnerships with external stakeholders are at the core of its success.

The mentoring program is hugely sucessful.

CEP Education Forum

What is the program called?

Wheatbelt & Beyond Youth Mentoring Inc (WBYM). It is a volunteer run, school based mentoring program operating across WA’s Wheatbelt and beyond. In 2021 we were granted charitable status: ‘Advancing Social and Public Welfare’ and ‘Advancing Education’. Our vision is to provide a mentoring program to inspire and empower our young people in the Wheatbelt region and beyond by igniting their passion to be life-long learners, growing their aspirations, achieving their goals and to be the best they can be. We have a focus on inclusivity, self-efficacy and psycho-social wellbeing. We also aim to grow expectations and aspirations within the students who are involved as well as expand their social and professional networks.

 

How did the program begin?

I was teaching Career Development at Bruce Rock DHS and was concerned at the narrow view of careers, lack of aspiration and unwillingness of students to put themselves outside their comfort zone. In 2011 we were given an opportunity to join a mentoring association. Karen Strange and myself spent the following 10 years developing and running a successful mentoring program at Bruce Rock DHS.

An evaluation, funded through the Federal Government’s Building Better Regions Fund community grant was completed by Regional Development Australia Wheatbelt in 2018, provided external confirmation of the benefits of this mentoring program to secondary students in Bruce Rock. 

The inception of Wheatbelt & Beyond Youth Mentoring program in 2019 ensured the continuation of the very successful Bruce Rock DHS program with a new District High School established each year since. Carnamah DHS (340km from the organisers) was successfully established during COVID lockdown in 2020 and Quairading DHS and Babakin Primary School in 2021. The aim is to establish at least one new program each year, whilst supporting existing programs.

Secondary students in Regional, Rural and Remote District High Schools in WA face unique challenges due to isolation of their community and small cohorts of peers. They have to make decisions about their upper secondary education in Year 7 or 8 to ensure enrolment at an appropriate school for Year 11 & 12, often also having to leave home at the end of Year 10 or earlier and board away. They are exposed to a limited number of careers in their local communities due to the size of the town and are isolated from tertiary study opportunities. With most people knowing each other and the facilities in the community, there is little opportunity to be put out of one’s comfort zone. As a result, many students feel uncomfortable and are unwilling to be exposed to new things. For all of these reasons a mentoring program is a great opportunity for our students. 

 

Who runs it?

The school based Non For Profit (NFP) program was developed and designed by Karen Strange and I. WBYM was established as a NFP incorporated program in 2019, run locally by passionate educators and community members, place based, alongside significant partnerships. An invested and diverse committee contribute to and oversee progress. We have 10 Committee members comprising of two WBYM founders, deputy principals, RDA Wheatbelt representative, Holyoake Wheatbelt Suicide Prevention/Mental Health officer, doctors, long term mentors, a Rotarian, a Youth Worker and a mentor coordinator.

Partnerships with Regional Development Australia Wheatbelt, Wheatbelt Business Network, Bruce Rock District High School, Bruce Rock Shire Council and Bruce Rock Community Resource Centre have assisted in the development of the organisation. Valuable partnerships with Notre Dame and Curtin Universities, University of Western Australia, Cooperative Bulk Handling and Mental Illness Fellowship WA have assisted with the growing capacity of the organisation.

 

How is it funded?

Up until now a volunteer committee has worked hard to set up WBYM in the last 2 years. Thanks to a  Harvest Mass Management grant through Cooperative Bulk Handling and some bequeathed funds, plus the growth and development of the program, we are now in a position to source funding for strategic planning, governance, promotion and wages to support the running of the program, through grants and corporate sponsorship to enable the program to continue to grow and become sustainable. Ideally, we would like to give every student in a District High School in WA this valuable opportunity down the track.

We also seek smaller amounts of funding for school programs from Local Governments (and in kind), Rotary, Lions, Bendigo Bank and local businesses to provide some support for this cost effective program. This enables schools to make face to face activities in the local community and in Perth, cost neutral for the mentors, who are volunteers and often students, and the school.

 

Where do you source mentors from?

To date, the majority of our mentors are from university groups including Notre Dame medical students, St Georges residential college University of WA, Curtin University medical students, Doctors who have stayed in the program after they have qualified, Cooperative Bulk Handling employees and those in the work force. Mentors have joined also through word of mouth from other mentors. The requirements to become a mentor is to be over 18, not from the community they are mentoring a student from and have a current WA working with children’s check and good references.

 

Have any former students come back to be mentors?

We have former students who would like to join the program, however, as one of our stipulations is that the mentor must come from outside the local community they are from, it isn’t an area we have gone into yet. In the future, with more schools onboard it is certainly possible. We get very positive feedback from talking to former students about the benefits they have gained.

 

What are you hoping to achieve in the next few years with the program?

We have developed a simple, agile and cost effective program that will continue to support many students into the future. Our achievements so far include:

  • 2018 independent evaluation by RDA Wheatbelt and funded by Building Better Regions funding
  • A current base of 80 mentors across 4 schools. With Dowerin District High School commencing in Term 1, 2022, we will have around 120 mentors and 200 students involved in the program
  • Mentors for students in Years 5-12
  • Many mentors have gained their 5 Year mentoring certificate of appreciation
  • This year we will be acknowledging mentors with 10 years’ service to the program in Bruce Rock
  • Partnerships with Notre Dame, Curtin University, St Georges University of WA, Wheatbelt Medical Immersion Program, Regional Development Australia Wheatbelt, Rotary WA, Cooperative Bulk Handling, Wheatbelt Business Network, Local Governments, Mental Illness Fellowship WA. Ongoing development with valuable partners around Australia
  • Finalists in the 2021 Regional Community Group of the Year Award
  • Winner of People’s Choice award, 2021 Regional Community Group of the Year Award

Our aim in the future is to ensure sustainability and continual growth of the program so we can support many more Regional, Rural and Remote students well into the future. 

For more information about the program, visit https://www.wbym.com.au.