How GOALS helped a First Nations student finish school

Gamilaraay woman and ABCN alumna Lauren Castino recalls how doing a GOALS program 15 years ago set her on a different path.

From an early age, First Nations student Lauren knew the decisions she made at school would matter more than most. Her mum didn’t complete school and no one in her immediate family had attended university. ‘I was an Indigenous student, growing up in a low SES area. I knew education would be my way out of struggle,’ she says.

A smiling woman is holding a baby.
Lauren Castino with bub

Participation in a GOALS program 15 years ago made a difference.

‘The school I went to was very disadvantaged,’ Lauren says of Lurnea High School in NSW, from which she graduated in 2008. ‘Despite encouragement from my parents and teachers, succeeding in academics wasn’t celebrated by other students. Aspirations to study beyond school – or even finish school – were low.

‘Most of my Indigenous peers and cousins left school before Year 12. It would have been acceptable, and an easy option, for me to do the same. GOALS confirmed my dream to be more. It showed me that being a professional woman was something normal.’

One of the aims of the GOALS program is to encourage participating Year 9 students to complete their schooling. Last year, 90% of students who had earlier been in a GOALS program completed Year 12 or its equivalent, compared with 68% for Australia’s most disadvantaged students. This year ABCN is running pilot GOALS programs in regional NSW to support First Nations students in collaboration with the NSW Department of Education.

Research shows that workplace interactions and exposure to a positive role model outside of a student’s immediate circle can make a huge difference to their aspirations.

‘I remember how refreshing it was to talk to adults without calling them Mr or Mrs! Because all the formality was removed, it felt like I was talking to friends who were interested in me as a teenager and person deciding what to do with my life, not as a student and daughter,’ Lauren recalls.

Now an English teacher at Sefton High School, happily married and currently on maternity leave, Lauren says she’s grateful that her commitment to her own education will benefit her young daughter.

She still remembers her mentor, Margaret Fearn, who worked at Network 10, one of ABCN’s founding member companies. ‘She took time out of her busy schedule to invest in a young stranger and she normalised something for me that at the time was a dream,’ Lauren says. ‘I’ll always be thankful for that.’

‘How lovely to be reminded of a very positive experience!’ said Margaret when we touched base with her recently. ‘Lauren’s curiosity, ability and resolve were evident from our first meeting and it was a privilege and joy to encourage her on the path to educational and personal success. I’m not the least bit surprised that Lauren has become a teacher herself!’

Watch ABCN alumni video stories here.

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