Mentoring program opens doors
When the first female Speaker of the NSW Parliament and former teacher Shelley Hancock shared high tea with a group of Sydney students, she thought it only fitting to return the gesture.
Fourteen girls and their teachers from Sir Joseph Banks High in south-western Sydney recently spent the day in NSW's halls of power as Ms Hancock's guests.
The group shared Devonshire tea with Ms Hancock and NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell and lunched in the Speaker's Garden with MPs Melanie Gibbons and Glenn Brookes. The party also toured Parliament House and observed question time.
However, the visit was more than high tea and touring. The girls were part of Femininity Acceptance and Mentoring (FAM), a group developed by the school to help female students build positive peer groups and see the value in their education.
FAM is based on a similar program called Mentoring Mateship and Masculinity (MMM), which runs for male students.
Teacher Lisa Pemberton, who ran FAM with teacher Loren Pischedda, said students from Years 7 to 12 with behaviour/attendance issues or a lack of female role models in their lives were invited to join the group.
As part of the program they received individual support from teachers, other students in the group and student leaders who had been hand picked to act as mentors.
"It's about embracing being female through older students acting as role models for the younger students who don't have those models in their lives or need a bit of direction," Mrs Pemberton said.
While the program focused on behavioural improvement, self-esteem and self-confidence, it also provided the girls with experiences outside their comfort zone.
Last year the group was taken to see the Australian Ballet's performance of Swan Lake and to visit an upmarket city restaurant to practise social skills.
Ms Pemberton said the visit to Parliament House was the "cream on the scone" for this year's group.
"It's a massive confidence and self-esteem boost. They don't often get out of their little bubble and they're not encouraged to so hopefully it's broadening their horizons."
Shelley Hancock, who was an English and history teacher at Ulladulla High before entering politics, said the visit allowed the girls to see how education operated in the real world.
"Sometimes these kids aren't terribly interested in the academic side of school so this makes it relevant and interesting," Mrs Hancock said.
Photo: Student mentors from Sir Joseph Banks High School with Shelley Hancock, first ever NSW Parliament female speaker. Photo by David Lefcovitch.