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08 November 2017

The strong woman backing Mandurah students

Isobel Bevis does not let life simply roll by.

A proud Noongar woman from Collie who loves family, culture and sport – particularly hockey – she knows how to deal with a challenge and thrive.

When she was 22-years-old she made a decision to walk away from an abusive relationship, knowing it would mean she would raise her twin girls as a single mum.

Isobel Bevis, Aboriginal and Islander education officer at John Tonkin College.

John Tonkin College's Isobel Bevis is in the running for a WA Education Award.

“The best advice I ever received in my life was ‘be a stronger, bigger person and rise above it',” Ms Bevis says.

An early job after she graduated from school – working for the Aboriginal Legal Service WA – introduced her to social justice, native title and criminal law, working with “exceptional people”.

In her current career, Ms Bevis has spent a decade working as an Aboriginal and Islander education officer at John Tonkin College in Mandurah.

After 10 years in the job, she’s seen the results of her strong values and gutsy approach to life rubbing off on students, families and the local community.

Ms Bevis inspires her students to seize opportunities and learn as much as they can – from going to the ballet for the first time, to taking in Aboriginal theatre and participating in significant community events such as Sorry Day.

Her colleagues benefit from her efforts too – particularly how she has helped teachers and other staff broaden their knowledge and have a deeper understanding of Aboriginal culture, language and history.

Links she has forged with community organisations and training providers have given Aboriginal students a new world of opportunities and assistance.

“A great day at work for me is when I pass teachers and they stop to give me positive feedback about the Aboriginal students in their classes,” she says.

“I want my students to look back and remember the opportunities and experiences they’ve had during school that helped them to grow and learn.”

By organising in-class maths and English tutors to help small groups of Aboriginal students improve their skills, Ms Bevis has helped students grow in confidence and knowledge in the classroom.

She also works closely with the school’s student services team to help students who are dealing with issues in their lives and education – and supports students and their families in meetings and case conferences.

Ms Bevis herself was inspired by her grandmother. “She was a strong Aboriginal woman with resilience to overcome many challenges, including having her eight children taken from her (the Stolen Generation),” she says.

Spurring students on to attend school regularly is another of Ms Bevis’ success stories.

She analyses weekly attendance reports to check for any improvements or declines in students’ attendance and then takes action to make a difference.

Aboriginal students who are at school for more than 85 per cent of the term reap the benefits of joining a hotly contested interschool basketball game and excursions to the theatre.

She’s a regular fixture in the school’s physical education department, and voluntarily coordinated the Peel District School Girls’ AFL competition for local budding footy stars of all cultural backgrounds.

“I was given a note a while ago from a student who was asked to write to someone they admire, look up to and who has helped them at school. I keep the note near my desk and it reminds me that what I do matters,” she says.

Ms Bevis is now aiming to complete a teaching degree – and to keep in tip top shape on her number one sporting field, hockey.

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