An exciting new online mentoring opportunity for regional students has started to roll out across district high schools in Western Australia.
The Wheatbelt and Beyond Youth Mentoring (WBYM) is an online mentoring program created at Bruce Rock District High School by Deputy Principal Janine Dayman and Karen Strange. It was developed from an already existing school-based mentor program which started in 2011 at the school. In 2019, Mrs Dayman and Mrs Strange decided to share the mentoring opportunity with other district high schools and created the Wheatbelt and Beyond Youth Mentoring program.
“Country students are more isolated, have less opportunities to see or try different study and job opportunities so they find it harder to try things they are unfamiliar with,” Mrs Dayman said.
The online mentoring program connects regional secondary students one-on-one with volunteering young adult mentors from outside their community. The program aims to build the students’ confidence, support networks, and broaden their perspective of the world and career opportunities. It has already seen a positive impact.
“Our evaluation has shown an increase in self-confidence and higher number of students staying at school and completing post-school studies,” Mrs Dayman said.
“Ongoing collection of feedback every year reports very positive changes in student inspiration for the future, expanded ideas for their future after school, and improved mental health support through their teens and after they leave our school.”
Year 8 and 9 students at district high schools often have to think about choosing the best school for their interests early as most district high schools finish at Year 10. But having a strong relationship with a mentor can assist the students in thinking about their career both in and outside their local community.
Samantha Lee is a mentor in the WBYM program.
“I had always really wanted someone to show me the ropes when I was in and leaving high school as there are so many choices to make in a small amount of time," she said.
“It can also sometimes be hard talking to your parents about some things and high school can be especially daunting when you have no idea what you want to do during or after it."
Students in the program have found that having a mentor allows them to bounce ideas off someone who isn’t in their environment and is another person to talk to who gives different perspectives and opinions.
“The best part of having a mentor is having someone to help put real life situations into perspective, helping me get ahead, learn skills for being an adult and answer real world questions,” Bruce Rock District High School Year 8 student Lily said.
“From having a mentor I learnt how to communicate with someone I don’t know and who is older, and how to have conversations with people who don’t live the same life as me,” Year 8 student Takula said.
Currently the program has more than 75 mentors and 130 students across three district high schools and two primary schools (the primary school students have a class mentor), with future plans to bring in another district high school each year. Since the introduction of the program they’ve seen an increase in self-confidence and school/tertiary retention of the students.
Bruce Rock District High School Principal Jake Petterwood said it was great to see the evolution of the mentoring program from a single site and single cohort, to several district high schools.
“The connection and camaraderie between the mentors and the kids is genuine and long lasting and has observable impacts on student wellbeing and academic performance. WBYM gives smaller schools a chance to connect deeply with their secondary students and provide visible and aspirational pathways for regional kids that might otherwise be considered a pipe dream,” he said.