10 June 2021

If I can see one young person in my care succeed; to progress through the education system and feel supported and proud of their achievements, then I know I am doing my job well.

Clea North with her two youngest children on country Yuggera Ugarapul Country, Boonah, learning about culture.

I am a proud Australian First Nations woman, born in Charleville, Bidjara Country. I grew up in a remote community and for most of my time in the classroom I felt shame. Even though I loved reading and writing, I felt like I didn’t fit in – that school was for my non-indigenous peers and not me.

It was at 15 that I knew I wanted to be a teacher and work with First Nations young people. I wanted them to have someone in the school environment they could recognise. Something I didn’t have growing up.

My journey from teacher’s aide, community education counsellor and teacher led me to Life Without Barriers, where I am an Education Consultant, working directly with young people, carers, case workers and schools to support our young people to stay in school. And especially advocating for those who have been excluded from mainstream schools due to a range of trauma-based reasons.

I truly believe that the development of numeracy and literacy can help move young people away from the cycle of poverty. Education is such a protective factor – it allows young people to have beautiful supports and networks.

What is essential in my role as a champion and advocate for the young people in our care, is putting the young person at the centre of the conversation and hearing their voice. After all, they understand their lives better than anyone. All too often it is the adult leading the conversation.

There are two lovely examples where I am supporting two young women who want to be nurses when they leave school. One of these young women has been excluded from many mainstream schools, yet I am keeping her aspiration alive by taking her to uni to meet with lecturers and show her the path.

With the other young lady, her school was trying to transition her out, but by advocating with the school to make small adjustments to her classes and by providing a Life Without Barriers youth worker for support, we are keeping her dream alive too.

For many young people in our care, school is not a place where they feel loved and supported; they are not getting the experience they deserve. My role is to change that. We should never write off someone’s dreams because of their past experiences and we should never lower expectations of what can be achieved – either theirs or ours.

Clea North is an Education Consultant within the Life Without Barriers Education Unit, based in the Sunshine Coast region. Clea helps drive the Education Strategy which is focused on supporting children and young people to build bright futures through education and learning ‘Every Day, Every Way’.

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