Samson Andrews has become one of 60 Indigenous students to graduate high school this year with support from a program that aims to assist First Nations communities close the gap on education.
The Jawoyn man from the small community of Barunga, around 80 kilometres southeast of Katherine in the Northern Territory, moved to Adelaide in 2015 to attend the all-boys Prince Alfred College where he boarded.
“I was pretty keen on seeing another country, a different place, but at the same time I was a little nervous because I was leaving home and leaving family behind,” he told NITV News.
“Boarding was a big difference too compared to home; you get to know other students from around Australia too.”
Following “jealousy” and a series of events at his old school, Mr Andrews began boarding school when he was in year nine after successfully obtaining a scholarship from The Smith Family’s Indigenous Youth Leadership Program.
Coming from a community of 300 to a school of around 1,100 students, Mr Andrews said the shift was challenging at first but he very quickly felt welcomed.
“The first year I found it a bit challenging getting around, but as soon as I got used to it I found it much easier,” he said. “I reckon I adjusted into that lifestyle really quickly”.
“At the beginning, I thought I was pretty isolated, but as soon as I made lots of friends they turned into family and I got very comfortable, so I feel very welcomed in Adelaide now.”
Being the first in his family to finish high school, Mr Andrews said that he has become an inspiration within his community, with his younger brothers now headed off to the same Adelaide school.
Mr Andrews said the move and persistence to complete year 12 is one of his “greatest achievements”.
“They are all very proud of me and I am most definitely proud I finished school. I thought I wasn’t going to make it and I was afraid I was going to drop out,” he said.
“A lot of people talk about me now, and I have inspired so many.”
Scholarship seeing great results
The Smith Family’s Indigenous Youth Leadership Program has assisted over 60 First Nations graduates in addition to Mr Andrews in 2019.
Graham Jaeschke, the general manager of the children's charity in South Australia, said the program's goal was to help close the gap in school attendance and to see more Indigenous students graduate.
“We give Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, the majority from remote and regional communities, the chance to come to these schools, and mainly boarding, to finish their secondary school and ultimately finish year 12,” he said.
“We are seeing great results, with 63 graduating [this year].”
The non-profit organisation partners with 24 different schools across the country, with an average of 50 students graduating each year.
“It is so important for students to finish year 12. It opens that opportunity for them, the choices they have to go on for either further study, a trade, or the workforce,” he said.
In 2017, the overall attendance rate for Indigenous students was 83.2 per cent compared to 93 per cent for non-Indigenous kids.
Since then, there have been no meaningful improvements, with attendance rates remaining lower in remote and regional areas.
However, the year 12 attainment rate continues to increase each year, from 47.4 per cent in 2006 to 65.3 per cent in 2016.