The Cape York Girl Academy has welcomed its first teenage students – and their babies – in an Australian first that brings young Indigenous mums back into the classroom.
The school at Wangetti, north of Cairns, allows for 15 mothers to live with their children and attend school during the day while the young ones are cared for nearby in an onsite nursery.
“Our students are Indigenous girls who are mums or have become completely disengaged from their
communities,” said Cape York Girl Academy Chair Natalie Walker.
“Having an onsite nursery at the school is at the heart of our school’s mission. It means the girls can go to class, and build the knowledge, ideas and skills they need for life and work, while their babies are looked after nearby.”
The Academy was inspired by the knowledge that women were powerful agents of change within their families and communities. The school aims to create a ripple effect that flows back to the girls’ families, communities and on to future generations.
Ms Walker said the nursery overcame some of the biggest challenges facing young Indigenous mums.
“If you’re a teenager, finishing school is hard enough. Once you have a baby, it’s almost impossible,” she said.
“Having a nursery onsite helps us overcome some of the biggest barriers for the girls – childcare, time and money, and encouragement. It gives them the time and space to learn, while their babies are close by.”
The young mums can visit their babies between classes, and feed and play with them. They don’t have to travel between home, school and a childcare centre, and the babies are still cared for in a safe and fun learning environment.
Ms Walker said the school had decided to run a crowdfunding campaign specifically for the nursery because “if the nursery doesn’t exist, the Cape York Girl Academy won’t either.”
The campaign kicked off officially last month, with the first target of $12,500 to give 10 students and their babies everything they need for a holistic early childhood experience for one term. The bigger target is $50,000, which will cover a whole year instead of just one term.
The nursery is unique in another way – it won’t receive any government funding during its start-up stage, unlike most childcare centre across Australia.
While the school could fund two full-time nursery staff, it had limited resources for necessities such as nappies, food and formula, and essential equipment such as change tables, tables and chairs, and educational toys.
Ms Walker said that the nursery was looking for some extra assistance to provide the babies with everything they needed for the whole year.
“We are asking people to help keep our girls in school by making sure their babies have all they need to eat, learn and play in a safe and nurturing environment,” she said.