State Schools' Relief, established at the onset of the Great Depression, has a rich history of helping disadvantaged families. For many years, this history has been shared with key partner, Bank Australia. It's a partnership built on mutual respect for the power of education.
State Schools' Relief began in a school in Elsternwick, where teachers noticed that young people in the area were staying away from school because they didn't have (and could not afford) the required uniforms.
Since then, State Schools' Relief has been providing uniforms for disadvantaged students. In 2014, it dressed 10,500 students. In 2015, it almost doubled this, dressing 20,500.
Though it may seem like a small gesture, the importance of uniforms for students can't be understated. Far from being simply a material contribution, a uniform is symbolic of greater things: acceptance, inclusion, equality.
Providing disadvantaged students with a method to be seen as a member of their academic community gives them confidence.
School calculator program
State Schools' Relief is not only answering the needs of today, it is actively anticipating the needs of tomorrow.
In consultation with school principals, State Schools' Relief identified access to expensive maths calculators as a barrier for senior high school students hoping to study the subject. The calculators (which cost in excess of $200 each) are essential for those hoping to study senior maths and, for many, the price is crippling.
To overcome this barrier, State Schools' Relief developed a program to get maths calculators to students who might otherwise be shut out of senior maths. The three-year, $126,000 program was developed with Bank Australia, and launched in October 2015.
With STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) at the top of the list of Australia's educational priorities, there was never a better time to make maths more accessible.
The School Calculator Program has already provided Noble Park Secondary College with 28 calculators for 28 senior students, ready for the beginning of term 1, 2016.
Although it is branching into new fields, State Schools' Relief still has clarity of vision. As CEO Stephen Iles says, "We're still in the business of getting children in the front gate ready to participate with everything they need to fit in and feel confident." To date, over 130 calculators with a total value of $27,000 have been distributed.
Noble Park Secondary College
One of the beneficiaries of this program, Noble Park Secondary College, has had a close relationship with State Schools' Relief for many years.
This proudly multicultural school is made up students from many different backgrounds. 51 different languages are represented in its student body. 82% are from non-English speaking families. Some are refugees, some come from detention centres, and many require financial assistance.
Despite (or perhaps as a result of) weathering much adversity, these students are motivated and proud to be counted as members of their school community.
The reality of disadvantage
State Schools' Relief recognises that it can help to minimise the impact of disadvantage, but cannot make it disappear.
The organisation has seen many ups and downs in its long history, and identifies that changes in the economy, such as the closing of the automotive industry, could present a new wave of difficulties for Australians. So, what can be done?
"The only cure for disadvantage, long term, is education", Stephen Iles says.
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