I am the head welfare teacher at Wiimali High School. We have 1040 students; 7% are Aboriginal and 21% were not born in Australia. Wiimali was made a partially selective school in 2010. It places a strong emphasis on building student engagement, achievement and retention. This school’s retention is very important in raising the general educational standards for our students to support them into further training and employment. The school’s priority is improving the educational outcomes of all students, including students from low socio-economic backgrounds. This group has increased sharply in the past 10 years as the agriculture sector of the community continues to struggle with the prolonged drought.
The staff of 65 teachers mostly live locally and their children attend local schools. As such these families are an important part of the community. Approximately 70% of our students travel by bus to school each day, with some travelling up to an hour each way. This impacts on the health of students, as does the increased incidence of substance abuse. There are a number of students who regularly abuse alcohol and other drugs, sometimes together. This is despite a strong program of drug education taught through the school and supported by a committed student welfare team.
Our team has seen an increase in a number of health issues over the last 5-6 years. Asthma has increased, as has the number of students will mental illness. Many of the rural kids are geographically isolated and live within families struggling with the changes forced on them by the environment and the changes to government regulations. Many of these families have lived in the area for several generations and are very self-sufficient people. They find it hard to ask for help. These families are traditionally the families that offer help to others when they are in need.
We have a number of gifted and talented students at the school, including a number of students from refugee backgrounds who work extremely hard at school, but who require emotional and financial support to ensure they can access higher levels of education and support within the community. Many of these students struggle to access community resources including health support. The school has an important role to play in supporting these students.
The school is working closely with the local health authorities hoping to establish a GP support facility at the school so that students have direct access to a GP or community health nurse. Many of the families have little contact with services in the town. This provides an opportunity to support families in non-threatening manner.
Story by Marion Smith