Supporting Our Students In a Changing World
Yalari Student Support Manager, Gary O’Brien explains how the team is overcoming recent challenges with positive effect.
The student support team have been a significant part of Yalari since it began in 2006 with three students at Toowoomba Grammar School and The Glennie School. Founding husband and wife team Waverley and Llew quickly became ‘uncle and aunty’ to those first few students and as the student numbers steadily increased, so has the student support team.
I came along in 2011 as the Student Support Officer (SSO) for Sydney and discovered something incredibly special about Yalari. I was invited to participate in the Year 9 boys Outback Camp that year and remember being amazed at the level of connectedness amongst the boys from different towns and communities across Australia. Sitting around the campfire with our students as they yarned about culture, their home lives, experiences at boarding school and dreams for the future, I sensed the students felt safe, felt heard and relished the fact others around them were on similar journeys. Any adult that’s attended one of these camps feels as if they have received an education themselves. It’s been the same with every Yalari camp that I’ve attended since. Inevitable nerves and the sometimes-awkward hellos from the students quickly give way to a camaraderie that is usually reserved for families. And of course, Waverley and Llew are still around and remain uncle and aunty to a student cohort now larger than 200, with 350 alumni.
After doing a few different things at Yalari I now find myself in the position of Student Support Manager. What a privilege it is to lead a team, now topping 15 staff across Australia, as they continue to support students in the same way it’s always been at Yalari: with compassion, openness, respect, resilience, inclusiveness and excellence.
These are the core values we live by at Yalari and the same core values we see in our students every single day. Every child is unique, as is their story and journey. The highs and lows each of them face, the triumphs and tears, the homesickness, the academic prowess, the sporting achievements – our Support Officers see it all. And in being there alongside students physically, emotionally, mentally and academically our SSO’s will all tell you they have learnt as much from students as students have learnt from them.
In these unusual times, although the methods may have changed, the level of support has not. I’ve particularly enjoyed watching (and occasionally zoom-bombing) video conference calls SSO’s have arranged with students who are learning from home. Physical distance, it seems, has not broken the strong bonds formed over time. Now perhaps more than ever, the team play a vital role in working closely with students, parents, and partner school staff to ensure the education of our Indigenous children from regional, rural and remote communities is as much of a reality as it’s always been.