‘You don’t have to be everything to a student, you just have to be something,’ was the message Murray Kitteringham, Principal of Sir Joseph Banks High School in NSW relayed to almost 200 mentors and company champions who Zoomed in to our In conversation with ABCN educators webinar held in March.
The most important thing is to show genuine interest, he said, explaining that students go into ABCN programs with the mindset: ‘I don’t care how much you know until I know how much you care.’
Four school principals from around the country described the tough circumstances facing their multicultural, low socio-economic communities – ranging from unemployment to crime, trauma to truancy – and what a difference a positive role model from outside a student’s immediate circle can make to a young person’s perspective.
‘ABCN mentors show our students that there are people in the community who care,’ Anne-Maree Crivelli from Glenroy College in Victoria said. ‘It’s a very powerful message – of hope and aspiration and achievement and dealing with stuff that gets thrown at them. It opens lots of doors because they get to see what’s possible.’
Offering a glimpse into the outside world was especially important last year when students’ worlds got smaller during COVID-19. All principals talked about the struggles their staff faced simply getting students online during lockdowns when so many didn’t have a proper device at home or access to enough internet data.
Mick Hornby of Mabel Park State High School in Queensland recalled how hard it was to keep connected to students. ‘The wellbeing team phoned every family. We sent hampers to families who couldn’t access government support. We had a drive-through to deliver paper resources to families who couldn’t access the technology at home. I remember the traffic jam up the street!’
The principals all expressed how grateful they were to the ABCN member companies that donated devices and data so students could continue their education, including participating in digital ABCN programs.
‘Our wellbeing coordinators have been trying to grab every ABCN program offered,’ Kelly Panousieris of Braybrook College, Victoria, said. ‘Often these students don’t move out of their suburb. The mentors give students that one-on-one time they so crave – you can see how they puff themselves up and feel so proud. Mentors affirm that it’s OK not to know what they’re going to be when they grow up.’
Asked what the most valuable thing was that mentors can share with students, the principals nominated listening, talking about a common interest, admitting vulnerabilities and telling stories that show it’s OK to make mistakes.
‘Every child is almost hanging on your every word,’ Murray Kitteringham said. ‘It’s about saying: “Look, I’m a normal person – this is how I got to the position I’m at.” You’re unpacking how you went about it for these kids who don’t have a significant other in their life.’
‘If in doubt, go for food,’ suggested Mick Hornby. ‘Everyone can connect over that.’
Watch the one-hour panel conversation here.
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