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AIME : The Beginning
Through the eyes of AIME’s Founder and CEO, Jack Manning Bancroft
“This Program would create an arena for all young people to come together, and grow together.”
I write this now as a 21 year-old and I do this because my gut feeling is that this Program has stumbled across a very special way of building a sense of community, breaking down social problems, and challenging established social norms. While I am unsure who will read this ‘history’, what I do know is that if there is one thing people can learn from the Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience (AIME) it is that there is no point sitting back and waiting for life to deal you your hand. It’s best to try and become the dealer.
We haven’t set the world on fire but at least we’re having a go, to try and make a better place for people to live in. So the following is the story of how I, Jack Manning Bancroft, came to The University of Sydney as an Indigenous student in 2003, and together with some very amazing young people, made AIME happen.
As I write in July 2006, the AIME Program has been running for two years and looks like it may have a very big future, and hopefully will make a huge difference for tomorrow’s children in this country.
In 2002 I graduated from Sydney Boys High School, where my focus on the world stopped at the sport pages of the Sydney Morning Herald. However, sport did teach me that if you ever wanted to achieve anything in life it required a serious amount of planning, dedication, and hard work. It was after finishing school that I started to broaden my focus. In seeking out a direction for my life I decided that The University of Sydney was the place I wanted to move to next.
My grandfather had been denied an education, so I had always known I would try to get into uni and make the most of the opportunities that I had in my life.
After applying to the University in 2003 I was awarded the Inaugural ANZ Indigenous Scholarship, which was based on the format of the Oxford Rhodes scholarship. The interview panel included the head of the ANZ Bank, the Vice Chancellor of The University of Sydney, and lots of other intimidating personalities in serious suits.
When they asked me why I would be the best choice for receiving a scholarship that was seeking to support an Indigenous Australian with leadership potential, I said what I honestly thought: That I was in a unique situation where I could communicate to both Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, and that I was someone that talked up my aspirations but also someone who got stuff done. Two days later I received the phone call.
I was going to The University of Sydney, I was going to live at St Paul’s Residential College on campus, and was going to be the second person in my Mum’s family to complete a university degree. (My Mum was enrolled in her Masters of Visual Art at Sydney Uni that same year).
Fast forward to where the AIME Program began to take its roots.
“Throughout my life I had access to some astonishingly talented and hard working Aboriginal people.”
In 2003 I finished my first year of uni and made a couple of really good friends at the Uni’s Koori Centre. In 2004 I was the co- organiser of the National Indigenous Tertiary Education Student Games. The Games, for me, were an opportunity to show people the positive things that young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were doing around the country. To see so many young Indigenous students was inspiring for me and showed me that our generation could make changes if we wanted to.
The Games had given me a taste of what it was like to have a strong sense of community and I wanted more people to be able to feel that.
Over those first two years at uni it felt like someone else was mapping out my life’s path. In 2004 after the Games, staff from various faculties began asking me how they could get more Indigenous students into their courses. At the same time I was enrolled in Aboriginal Studies classes that highlighted the social inequalities and injustices that Indigenous people face everyday. Similarly my Media Studies had shown me how much the main stories in the media were always about Indigenous ‘problems’.
It the seemed to me that Reconciliation had slipped straight off the Sydney Harbour Bridge in 2000 with the march, and plummeted to the bottom of the Harbour, and hadn’t been seen since. It didn’t even rate a mention in the 2004 election.
Many people, including the tutors and students in Aboriginal Studies kept saying, as the media did, that Indigenous problems were almost too deep to ever fix. I thought about this a great deal and it didn’t rest too well with me.
It was 2004 and I was surrounded by gifted and talented Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, from inspiring young Indigenous uni students to extraordinary Indigenous athletes and brilliant artists and writers.
Throughout my life I had access to some astonishingly talented and hard working Aboriginal people. Therefore my view was that if these people could make something of their lives then the rest of us had no excuse. The one inherent trait that all these people shared that made them successful was that they dared to dream and worked their arses off to reach those dreams.
“. . . a path was chosen.”
At this time a lot of external information was being thrown at me about how hard it would be to change the social divide that existed between Indigenous Australians and non- Indigenous Australians. But, I personally knew so many successful Indigenous people and I also knew a lot of fantastic non- Indigenous Australians that actually cared about addressing the social split that existed in our nation. A lot of these people wanted to do something about it.
All these thoughts floated around my mind while I got caught up in the spell of education. There is something enchanting about the process of learning and the power that comes with knowledge. Knowledge isn’t prejudiced. If people have the opportunity and the relevant skills they can access any form of information, decipher it and make it their own.
After what seemed like a thousand serious discussions with a Kenyan friend and fellow student, Kabir Dhanji a path was chosen.
Some of workshops in the AIME Program:
- Taronga Zoo Through his Animals of the Dreaming session Paul Sinclair shared stories and cultural knowledge with the group.
- Hip Hop Wire MC involved the kids in the mechanics of creating a Hip Hop track – from putting the lyrics on paper, to performing and recording.
- NRL Workshop Mentees and Mentors participated in activities with the NRL players who also shared their positive messages and stories of success.
- Creative Writing Ruby Langford Ginibi and Phillip McLaren, shared their stories and their expertise to encourage and inspire the Mentees in writing their own stories.
- Drama Marion Potts wove her magic and got the Mentees and Mentors out of their comfort zones to act out roles and perform in front of the group.
- Art Guided by Bronwyn Bancroft, the Mentees had the opportunity to express themselves through a combination of painting and poetry.
Bronwyn Bancroft demonstrates the process for creating the background of an Artwork, during the Art session.
The idea was to hit the high schools with a high percentage of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kids and provide them with Mentors from The University of Sydney. The basic concept was to aim to achieve 4 things:
- show the kids there are lots of successful Indigenous people in all walks of life
- provide them with strong positive role models that simply told them they could achieve anything they wanted in their lives if they were willing to work hard
- keep an underlying consistent emphasis on education while Mentees and Mentors learned life lessons, to gain knowledge of themselves and the society they were part of.
- the final aim was to put Reconciliation back into the forefront of young people’s minds.
The way this was going to be achieved was by having Indigenous and non- Indigenous university student Mentors working with Indigenous and non-Indigenous Mentees. Basically this meant that we would provide role models of similar backgrounds to the Indigenous kids to show them that they could make it to uni. And for the non-Indigenous students that they were able to take part in a valuable cross-cultural learning experience and take ownership of the way they viewed their society.
The strong non-Indigenous involvement would show everyone involved that people cared about others in need no matter what their background might be. This program would create an arena for all young people to come together, and grow together.
Before this dream could come to life we needed people to make it happen.
“… the non-Indigenous students were able to take part in a valuable cross-cultural learning experience and take ownership of the way they viewed their society …”
It was from around April 2005 that the Program began to evolve so naturally that it felt like we were on the right track from the very beginning. First up I was told that a student had been into the Koori Centre at the Uni to ask how he could be involved in a mentoring program. Tom Ward had been involved in a program in Queensland so the Koori Centre staff put him in touch with me. From our first meeting we were off and running. Tom said he could really help with the academic documentation that was needed for our research and evaluation. Tom is one of the most intelligent and efficient people I have ever met and without him I think the Program would still be trying to find its way.
Through Tom, Hamish Dunn, Rashi Kalra, and Robyn Shields, joined the team. Hamish became Co-Director of the Program and Rashi the Treasurer. Robyn was our Adviser. Their support was more than invaluable but in particular Rashi and Hamish who put so much time and effort into the development of the Program. Their contribution consistently made me realise that what we were doing was right. They displayed such passion and selflessness that the bar was raised to an incredible height for the rest of us.
So together we formed a relatively formidable team, of four Med students and a Media student, two Indigenous 3 non-Indigenous, and ages varying from 19 to over 30. We had a diverse mix of expression, opinion, and experience, and began to pool our resources and ideas around the original idea of matching university students with Indigenous high school kids. For the purpose of keeping this document from becoming the longest document of all time, I’ll jump forward.
“After some serious research from the team we were almost ready to roll.”
“The six-week Program fell into place . . .”
Through Janet Mooney, the Director of the Koori Centre, our pilot school was found. In 2005 at Alexandria Park Community School approximately 90% of the Year 9 cohort of students were Indigenous. The then Deputy Principal, Cathie Burgess and the AIME School Contact, Steve Bennet were supportive and excited by the potential of the AIME Program.
Matthew Francis, Education and Welfare Manager, paved the way for us to establish a relationship with the NRL. Something that proved to be a serious bargaining tool with the kids, a lot of who held ambitions to one day play rugby league.
Having the NRL on board was integral to our success. Fame can open many doors and having NRL players communicating similar messages to those of the AIME Team enhanced our potential to achieve positive outcomes. Matt has been an extremely supportive figure at AIME generally, but more specifically for all of my pursuits. I thank him dearly because his support was instrumental in fast tracking AIME’s profile in the community.
With the NRL workshop that Matt arranged, we had five other sessions to fill. Hamish organised some Indigenous writers; Bronwyn Bancroft agreed to do a workshop, as did Director Marion Potts, along with a close friend Paul Sinclair, who was an Education Officer at Taronga Zoo in Sydney, and a musician I did some work with, Wire MC.
So the name and the structure were decided and the Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience (AIME) Program was just about there. An important element of the name for the team was that by including the word ‘Australian’ in the name we ensured there was a level of inclusiveness for non- Indigenous Mentors and students. Something we saw as crucial in the process of attempting to break down existing social stereotypes of racism and discrimination.
After some serious research from the team we were almost ready to roll. With the school and the Program ready, we needed Mentors.
The following was written in an open letter to the University of Sydney students in May 2005:
“AIME is an initiative of Indigenous and non-Indigenous students at the = University of Sydney and aims to provide support to Year 9 students at Alexandria Park Community School. Over 90% of the students to be mentored are Indigenous. After Year 9, a large proportion of these students tend to drop out of school. By providing additional support, we aim to help these students discover and reach their goals, and encourage them to remain in school!
The initial phase of the Program will consist of six interactive workshops held over a six-week period in August and September 2005. Workshop coordinators will include, Paul Sinclair (Taronga Zoo), Artist Bronwyn Bancroft, Director
Marion Potts, Writers Ruby Langford Ginibi and Phillip McLaren, the NRL, and Hip Hop artist Wire MC. In October 2005, the second phase of the pilot Program will commence, involving Mentors and Mentees meeting one-on-one each
week in a relaxed environment at the University of Sydney, where they can participate in organised activities, such as sport, and talk about academic and personal issues.”
Feedback was overwhelmingly positive
We aimed to keep the Program underground as much as possible. Basically because we didn’t have the resources to take on 200 applications for 25-30 spots. So we targeted the Medical Faculty and the Koori Centre. One idea was to involve as many Indigenous uni students as possible, so the kids could see something in their Mentors that they could either associate with or want to be like.
After sending the details of the Sunday training day out to our target groups, we were astounded to see 53 prospective Mentors turn up. Thanks must go to Paul Sinclair who conducted the cross-cultural training; Jennifer McVicar who trained the students in the processes of mentoring; and Phil Cooley who gave the applicants an insight into the behaviour of the Alex Park kids in their school and local community.
During the training day we reviewed the behaviours of the uni students and analysed their applications, and managed to cut down the group to the number we needed.
One of the hardest things I’ve had to do is turn away people who wanted to change the state of Indigenous affairs in this country. My hope was that they could see the bigger picture and still want to contribute to change.
Before we knew it we were delivering the Program. In the first six weeks the kids didn’t engage or interact very much, but as we moved into the second phase they began to trust us and open up.
We have a film on the AIME YouTube channel, which was made at the time, to document the experiences of the interactive workshops over the first couple of years. The film is simply titled “AIME”.
Over the following weeks we watched the partnerships flourish, with the second stage utilising one-on-one mentoring where the Mentors focused on teaching specific skills in the areas of goal setting, dealing with racism and bullying, and self respect; along with other broader disciplines such as meeting homework deadlines, working in partnerships and team work.
The best relationships were definitely those where the Mentors were honest and open with the kids. The Mentors who really put themselves on the line were accepted by the kids more quickly than those who were tentative and struggled to gain momentum in their relationship with their Mentees.
We knew we were on the right track when we received feedback from the teachers, the students and their Mentors, which was overwhelmingly positive. Some teachers added that the Program created an incentive for the students to come to school. In speaking of the AIME Program, Cathie Burgess said, “AIME is a great idea, and has potential. The Mentors are incredibly patient and generous.”
“We knew we were on the right track.”
The first AIME session kicked-off on 5 May 2005
The school contact for the AIME Program, Maths teacher Steven Bennett, gave us an insight into the effect we were having on the kids. He explained: “A significant number of students were motivated by the Program. Some of our more ‘difficult students’ would make sure they didn’t misbehave in order to participate on Fridays… [AIME was] very worthwhile and beneficial to disadvantaged students. Hopefully it will grow to be an established program for the local community.”
We all knew that we had stumbled across something special. However we also all knew that we had to, at some stage, do some uni work otherwise we’d fail and be in need of Mentors for ourselves. With that in mind at the end of the Program we returned to our studies. In late December the AIME 2005 Film was finally completed and became a great educational and promotional resource. Tom Ward left the country to work overseas for a year. Rashi returned to New Zealand. We all sort of did our own thing. It wasn’t until early January that we regrouped. Contact was made and we began to look towards 2006. The new team would be myself, Hamish, and Rashi. We had two early aims, first to expand the Program, and secondly to find another person to join the team.
In early February we made contact with Alexandria Park and pitched the idea of expanding AIME so that it ran a Program with Year 9 and one with Year 10. The idea was given the go ahead. We took the ball and ran with it. Using the feedback from 2005 Mentors and students we adapted the Year 9 Program and expanded its length from 12 to 18 weeks. Concurrently we formulated a whole new program for the Year 10 students. In March 2006 a letter was sent out to University students. This letter appears in the box on the right.
After contact had been established with the Mentors we received some great news. Our application for financial support to the Aboriginal Education Council (AEC) had been approved. They offered us $10,000 for the 2006 Program. This was a huge relief and while we would still have to run the majority of the Program on a volunteer basis, the grant would allow us to establish a basic infrastructure with transport and further research being our main focus for the funds.
Following the news that the AEC would support us we were contacted by Leichhardt Secondary College who were interested in having their Year 9 students take part in the Program. After discussions with the Principal and the Indigenous students they decided they would join AIME.
With a new school in the Year 9 Program and a whole new Program for Year 10 2006 was looming as a strong test for the validity of the AIME process.
So the Program commenced on 5 May at Taronga Zoo with Paul Sinclair’s ‘Animals of the Dreaming’ session. It was great to have Paul kick the Program off – he is a close friend and a great role model to the kids and to me. He never fails to nail the message that we want to communicate – evidence of this can be seen by what he says in the 2005 AIME DVD.
From there the changes to the Program became apparent. We paired the Mentors with the Mentees in the second week of the Program for a ‘Get to Know You’ and ‘Goal Setting’ session. We then hosted the kids at the University for a ‘treasure hunt’. Followed by two more skill sessions, the first being ‘Identifying Strengths and Weaknesses’ and the second was the start of our ‘Creative Writing sessions.’
On the 9 June we had our second external workshop coordinated and demonstrated by artist Bronwyn Bancroft, who also happens to be my mother (she couldn’t really say ‘no’).
Letter to prospective volunteers:
The AIME Mentoring team have put together two Programs for 2006, one will be run in conjunction with Alexandria Park Community School Year 9 students, and potentially with Blackwattle Bay Year 9 Indigenous students. The other Program will be run with Indigenous and non-Indigenous students in Year 10 at Alex Park. All in all it looks like we will be offering 49 definite positions, and waiting on confirmation for about 16 more from Blackwattle Bay. Both Programs will commence in the week of the 1 May and run for 18 weeks… At this stage the Year 9 Program will run with a similar ethos to the Program we ran last year, but instead there will be more of a focus on sustaining the interaction from the workshops to the mentoring sessions. For example our theatre workshop with Director Marion Potts will be followed by a theatresports workshop conducted by a crew from Sydney Uni… For the Year 10 Program we have decided to base it around projects.
Basically during the first introductory session we will give the school students the opportunity to choose to work in one discipline over the following 18 weeks. They will have a choice to perform the following activities in the following categories:
Art – Students will have the opportunity to develop a comprehensive art exhibition. Your role as a Mentor will be to support them throughout the process. We will have distinguished artists from within the community making numerous visits to help you and your Mentee with the direction of their production.
Drama – Put together a theatrical performance. Depending on numbers, students can work on writing their own play, and numbers permitting, performing it at the end of the Program. Experts will also be visiting to offer support.
Hip Hop – Using the link between Hip Hop and Poetry the aim is to show/provide your Mentee with a pathway into English as they develop their own Hip Hop performance/s for the end of the Program. C,c,c,c Clark will be on hand to offer words of advice re. beatboxing.
Creative Writing – The Mentees will be able to develop their own piece of literature in any field that we will look to publish and put on display at the end of the Program.
I cannot write this history without thanking the wonderful people and organisations that volunteered their time and expertise to get the AIME Program off the ground . . .
National Aboriginal Sporting Chance Academy
Dean Widders, Jimmy Storer, Ronald Prince
Sydney University Theatre Sports crew
“. . . this Program . . . is destined to succeed.”
In 2006 we expanded Bronwyn’s workshop to two weeks, so the kids could achieve more. Some of the end results are quite remarkable as can be seen in the AIME film. Feedback from the kids indicated the Art workshops were among their favourites.
Mentees and Mentors during one of the sessions held on campus at the University of Sydney in 2006
The holidays followed the Art workshops and on our return we conducted what I believe was one of the most challenging and rewarding workshops we had delivered to date. It was the Racism workshop, where we provided different scenarios for the Mentors and Mentees to work through.
We returned to the University of Sydney for Marion Potts’ Drama workshop, which we knew would be a draw-card after the success of this workshop the previous year. In looking back at the footage of this week on the AIME Film you can see how much fun the kids had. In reference to this workshop, Alexandria Park teacher Steve Bennett told us it was a really big moment for one of the boys to stand up in front of his peers and expose himself in the way only drama can allow, particularly since he would never even answer questions in class.
The theatresports crew from Sydney Uni followed Marion’s lead and made sure all the AIME students had a lot of fun during their workshop the following week. The Program was building momentum and the interactive workshops were allowing Mentors and Mentees to open up to each other and forge strong relationships.
As we moved into the back end of the Program the Indigenous Hip Hop group The Street Warriors provided an injection of energy and enthusiasm. The two boys in the group, Wok and Abie, are great role models for all young people. It was a huge plus to have them involved and communicating their messages positively.
Even as it was developing, everyone involved in the AIME Program had the opportunity to experience and learn in many different ways from many different people.
We had a follow-up Creative Writing session and then the NRL workshop.
The NRL and NASCA have been incredibly supportive of what we were and still are trying to do. In particular it was great to have Dean Widders on board. Like his cousin Paul, who conducted the Taronga Zoo workshop, Dean
is a great leader and role model. His desire to make change is infectious and it’s great to see the kids take notice and listen when he speaks to them about life choices. Everyone also got a huge kick out of being at Telstra Stadium.
With three weeks remaining, the next session was one of the most productive sessions, where Mentors helped their Mentees create a resume. The kids responded really well to this because they could see how it would help them in the future. The way they engaged with this session reinforced that what we were doing was right.
Around this time my very good friend Shane Talbot helped to get the first AIME website up and running. We knew this would be a huge benefit and enable the Program to continue to grow.
I started to write the ‘history’ of AIME the night before the second last session of 2006, where the kids would watch the film Yolngu Boy. The week after Sydney Uni Sport hosted AIME for a Touch Footy Comp and Gala Day, where there were 6 role model athletes alongside Waratah squad member Alan Manning from North Sydney.
That night we had our end of year function – the first for AIME – and we showcased the Year 10 works in an exhibition. The night also gave Mentors and Mentees an opportunity to meet each other’s parents and to say goodbye for the year. To round off the Program Wire MC performed and we had the first screening of the AIME 2006 Film.
In retrospect the biggest difference in the 2006 Program was the way we conducted the mentoring sessions. The AIME Team really put in the effort to help the kids get a skill set that would arm them for tackling the problems in their lives. The workshops saw a number of new faces join the AIME Program. It’s humbling to reflect on the people who have stepped up and been involved in AIME so far, and they all volunteered their time, knowledge, and profile, not just to make the 2006 Program happen, but to build on our success in 2005, and take things up a notch.
I have no doubt that we wouldn’t have had the support of such fantastic people if we weren’t on the right track.
After two years of running AIME I can honestly say that there is something in this Program that can make genuine change for young Indigenous people. I’m not afraid to say that and am happy to embrace the fact that this Program is destined to grow and with more hard work it is destined to succeed.
Huge thanks must also go to:
- The University of Sydney
- The Koori Centre (University of Sydney)
- Aboriginal Education Council NSW Inc.
- And everyone who supported AIME in any way