AN ambitious new initiative announced in Weipa on Friday aims to inspire young Indigenous men to become the next generation of community leaders.
In a $3 million partnership between Western Cape Communities Trust, Rio Tinto and the federal government, the Clontarf Foundation will establish an academy of achievement next year across the Western Cape College campuses.
The Clontarf academy is a mentorship program that aims to build self-esteem and self-discipline among participating young Indigenous men to foster educational engagement, behavioural change and adaptive life skills.
The brainchild of former AFL coach Gerard Neesham, the academy uses sport activities, especially rugby league, to motivate students to attend and remain at school and improve their life choices.
The voluntary program will be available from the second school term next year to any Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander males enrolled between Years 5 to 12.
Clontarf Queensland manager Dan McNamee said the academy encouraged young Indigenous men to complete school, seek further education, find meaningful employment and become role models in their communities.
“We come in and partner with the teachers and families until we can become part of the fabric of the school community – like another school department,” he said.Mr McNamee said the academy built a structured and forward focussed routine for the young men.
“In the morning we might take the boys for some touch footy or rugby league, then we will eat a healthy breakfast,” he said.
“There is an academy room at the school where the kids have access to the mentors before, during and after school.
“We take the boys on camps and explore work opportunities – for example taking them on site at Rio Tinto.
“It’s such a fun program that it gets the boys excited for school each morning.”
Mr McNamee said the program had seen an 80 per cent school attendance rate among participants with 85 per cent going on to further education across the foundation’s 123 academies nationwide.
Friday’s announced funding injection will keep the academy operational for the next three years with major stakeholders wanting the program to become a long-term fixture of the Cape’s educational system.
WCC secondary principal Dan Tonon said the academy would complement the existing curriculum at the college.
“It will build on our focus on student well-being and engagement while stepping beyond the traditional curriculum to develop the life skills young men require that are found beyond the classroom,” he said.
The initial program rollout will include six mentors to manage the academy program. Three experienced mentors from Clontarf will arrive in Weipa in January ahead of the academy’s official start in Term 2.
A further three mentors will be employed in the months following, with intentions for locals to fill these positions.
Trust executive officer Stefan Le Roux said the funding agreement included an expectation that Clontarf would immediately focus on developing leaders in the Cape community so an entirely local staff would be employed within three to five years.
Rio Tinto Weipa acting general manager Dan Kelleher said the academy would foster future leaders not only within the local Indigenous community but also in the decision-making rooms of the Cape’s mine sites.
“Bringing Clontarf to Weipa will give an extra boost to the young Indigenous kids to help them through their educational journey and, ideally, we can get them into my business once they’ve finished uni,” he said.
“We want them to aim high – to want to become not just an operator but a road superintendent or a mine superintendent or a shift boss.
“We want to see kids come through school with the aspirations to be leaders.”