Worawa Aboriginal College is unique as the sole Victorian Aboriginal school and the only Australian boarding school specifically catering for Aboriginal girls.
Much has been described about the intergenerational burden of trauma for Aboriginal people and a number of therapies and approaches are known to develop people’s strengths to address these issues. Surprisingly little material exists about implementation of these strengths based approaches with Aboriginal people (AIHW, 2014). Here we outline the approach that Worawa Aboriginal College has taken to strengthen wellbeing with young Aboriginal women.
Worawa is a unique educational institution in that it provides mainstream education in a culturally supportive environment, which delivers to its students a level of self-esteem and confidence for the future. Students
are encouraged to develop academically, culturally and socially to their full potential. Established in 1983 in response to the difficulties faced by Aboriginal students in the mainstream education system, Worawa College is registered as a Specialist School catering for Aboriginal young women in Years 7-10. As a transition school, Worawa places emphasis on building the necessary ability, skills and confidence to transition into mainstream schooling at Years 11 and 12, and further, into higher education and meaningful work.
The young women who present at Worawa come from urban, regional and remote Aboriginal communities across the country. All have experienced difficult circumstantial backgrounds, typical of the low socio economic status of Aboriginal people in Australia,
and many have experienced levels of abuse, violence and neglect which have compromised their ability to independently seek out opportunities and grow the self-reliance and self-esteem needed for full emotional, social and physical development. The specialist nature of Worawa’s operations lie in its integrated model which combines intensive health and well-being programs with strong formal education principles and cultural activities led by Aboriginal Elders, focussing on Aboriginal values and pride in Aboriginal heritage.
The core business of Worawa is education however it must be recognised that the ability of students to engage in education is seriously impeded by poor health and psychosocial issues. Addressing student health and wellbeing gives students an improved ability to focus on their education. In short the provision of services available to students at Worawa contributes to better educational outcomes. It is in this context that the Worawa education model supports young women with intensive programs addressing their complex needs, providing on-site specialist care and daily routines integrating education, wellbeing and pride in culture. This physical and mental health focus, combined with sound formal education principles is integral to the success of the College in retaining and engaging ‘at risk’ young women.
The residential program provides a safe and secure ‘home’ environment as students deal with the complicated issues experienced by all young women in the crucial teenage years, and which can be especially acute in Aboriginal girls as they struggle to overcome early negative experiences and maintain connection to their Aboriginal heritage, while making a place for themselves in the mainstream world of higher education and work. The Worawa model builds trust and confidence and provides a bridge towards further education and workplace opportunities.
Worawa has a comprehensive approach to students’ physical, emotional and mental health care. Assessment, management and treatment strategies are specifically targeted to individual student needs. The College has forged partnerships with a range of organisations to deliver support services to students to enable them to focus on education.
As a result of the College’s holistic approach Worawa staff has observed a number of changes for the young Aboriginal women attending the College, which includes improved:
- ability to self manage and soothe emotions, such as, sulking, anxiety, grief, anger or outbursts
- appreciation of boundaries and routine
- physical and emotional health
- self esteem
- pride in personal care
- social skills
- literacy and reading
- leadership skills
- happiness and hope
- and mindfulness about health needs